OLIVER La FARGE

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 454

Let not the size of ["The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters"] dismay you. It is a small-scale "Anthony Adverse" of the California gold rush with touches of "Huckleberry Finn," a lively, often funny, picaresque tale that conveys a real feel of what it must have been like on the immigrant trails and in the gold fields, and only occasionally does the story become too long. The publisher's blurb stresses the author's "meticulously researched facts," and he himself appends a bibliography of nigh on to 150 titles, but he is too good a novelist to let mere facts stand in the way of a good story.

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Considering the enjoyment this reviewer had from the book, he should not carp at minor faults, but a few comments must be made. On the score of "meticulous research," it is odd to find Algonkian words in the mouths of Caddoan-speaking Pawnees, or an Indian Maiden whom the Algonkian Cheyennes of Minnesota called by a New Mexico Tewa name.

Yes indeed, there is an Indian Maiden. One of the charms of this book is its unabashed use exclusively of stock characters. There are Bad Indians who are cowardly, do not wash, and stink. There are Good Indians, who are brave, generous and well scrubbed. Jaimie's father is that old standby, the brilliant, highly educated, charming ne'er-do-well, whose weaknesses keep himself and his son in the state of motion necessary to maintain the story while he enables the author to make comments of which Jamie himself would be incapable. (pp. 23, 42)

[Jaimie's] tale, written with what is intended to be artless candor and unconscious humor (some of which is delicious, some obvious, some contrived), is broken at intervals by his father's flowery journal and letters. This provides nice contrast, and must have been fun for the author.

Jaimie is a good-hearted bad boy, owing much to Huck Finn, full of naïve, sharp observations, innocence, and common sense. Sometimes he is the adult looking back on boyhood, at others he is nearer ten than fourteen years of age….

Near the end of the book he experiences a passage right out of Krafft-Ebing with an elderly prostitute, which has the effect of awakening in him a healthy interest in the Indian Maiden, who becomes the Future Bride. In fact, characterization of the book's hero is subordinated to the point-to-point needs of the story or to the author's wish to play for a laugh or a shock.

The book is fun to read: It has verve; locale and period are well captured. Sober criticisms, then, become captious. (p. 42)

Oliver La Farge, "Fourteen in '49,'" in The Saturday Review (entire issue copyright 1958 by Saturday Review Associates, Inc.; reprinted with permission), Vol. XCI, No. 16, April 19, 1958, pp. 23, 42.

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