A Swallow Press Book

Interior Country
Stories of the Modern West

Edited by Alexander Blackburn, Craig Lesley, and Jill Landem

“Using [an] eclectic collection of material, The Interior Country redefines the Western experience moving away from popular, old clichés and stereotypes towards new limits and a surreal consciousness which ominously encompasses the dangers of the nuclear age.”

Robert F. Walch, Journal of the West

“Who better than Alex Blackburn to give the reading public stories of today’s West instead of the stereotyped cowboys and Indians of yesterday’s West[?]”

Senior Beacon

The Interior Country is a substantial anthology which should interest a general reader and be useful for courses in western American literature or — given the variety of stories and their approaches — the writing of fiction. The existence of such anthologies may lead to further acceptance and understanding of the strengths in contemporary western writing.”

Robert A. Roripaugh, Western American Literature

“As a whole, The Interior Country fulfills its promise of providing a cross-section of stories of the modern West. Some of the images created are so succinct and uncompromising that you will have trouble denying their truth and power.”

Connie Wieneke, Jackson Hole News

A mile down the road from the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, a woman unearths an ancient shard of pottery bearing the thousands-year-old thumbprint of a Navawi'i woman. A marriage is thrown into crisis by the husband's discovery, on a fishing trip, of a girl’s corpse. To impress the prostitute he wants to marry, a man constructs a homemade atomic bomb. These incidents are representative of the new territories of Western experience explored in Alexander Blackburn’s anthology The Interior Country: Stories of the Modern West.

“Characters in the modern West play a different ballgame,” writes Blackburn in his introduction, “their roles no longer predestined or protected by the old codes of wild justice or portrayed in prose more purple than sage.” Clearly Blackburn’s purpose is not merely to anthologize the modern Western experience but to redirect our notion of it. Writers such as Frank Waters, Jean Stafford, Raymond Carver, and Wallace Stegner challenge us to question the limitations of the traditional romantic myths, dominated by outlaws and heroes determined to conquer the wilderness. Through Blackburn’s careful selection, organization, and commentary, we are invited to embrace wider themes, the most important being the delicately crucial balance between nature's interior country — the Wild West converted to something more real — and the internal landscape of the human soul.

In order to maintain a sense of the West updated, all of the sixteen short stories and three novel excerpts have been chosen from the last four decades, most having been written since the late 1960s. The Interior Country demonstrates the unique focus of modern Western literature upon the inner nuances of human experience rather than upon the traditional regional “local color,” Eastern American “social sphere,” or European “manners.” The serious Western writer turns inward to reflect upon the West's magnificent yet tragic and brutal history, thus establishing a personal connection to a land whose beauty and power is being threatened, not by gunslingers and Indians, but by weapons testing, overdevelopment, and exploitation.

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Related Subjects

Literary Studies · Fiction · American Literature · Western Americana