Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Gretel Ehrlich challenges serious myths concerning gender and its relationship to the American West in the twelve essays that constitute The Solace of Open Spaces. Instead of positing the West as a man’s world in which men have all the power and are separated from the women’s domain of home and family, Ehrlich depicts tough, capable women who are working outside the home. Most women, including Ehrlich herself, work along with the men and pull their own weight, even in the midst of personal tragedy, by adopting typically masculine qualities.

On the one hand, this book is like a typical collection of essays in that each piece is an individual unit existing independently of the others. Each essay resonates with its own artistry. Each manifests its own distinct tone, subject matter, and point of view. Each stands wonderfully on its own. On the other hand, Ehrlich also brings the essays together into a single work that clearly has a unifying story and set of thematic concerns. She mentions more than once in the preface that the book is a “narrative” and that the accumulation of essays chronicles her relationship to Wyoming, first as a place to make a documentary film on sheepherders, then as a place to mourn the death of her lover, then as a place to live and work, and finally as a place to discover and consummate another love relationship. Seen in this way, each essay relies on the others for the telling of Ehrlich’s Wyoming experience, and...

(The entire section is 488 words.)