UNDER THE TONTO RIM
First Published 1926
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
Lucy Watson has finally escaped from the town where she grew up. The daughter of a saloon-keeper, Lucy has been determined to build herself a life of respectability, but her wild younger sister has been a burden she could not deny. Now Clara is gone, and Lucy is free to become a social worker.
Her introduction to the back country is both shocking and entrancing. The Tonto Rim pioneers slash rude homes and fields from the sheltering forests, with no effort at comforts or beauty. From the grandeur of the old forests, loomed over by the immense Rim Rock, to the love of the children whose lives she can make more inviting, Lucy feels her soul expanding in its new setting. She feels fulfilled teaching people how to make their own lives more healthy and pleasant.
Central to Lucy’s new life are the Denmeades, the family with whom she lives. She takes as a special project the civilizing of the wild, reclusive Edd Denmeade, but she has much to learn about what really deserves respect in a man – or in a woman, for that matter. Lucy’s internal conflict takes outward form when she is joined by Clara, chastened by the mistakes she has made. The difference between good and bad in a man becomes brutally obvious to Lucy when Clara’s past follows her into the Rim country.
UNDER THE TONTO RIM was written nearly eighty years ago. Author Zane Grey traveled widely throughout the Western US of the early twentieth century, taking an absorbed interest in everything, writing dozens of books based on the settings and societies he found. Most are now classics, western novels at their best.
The biggest difference between the time these books were written and now, is not material. Yes, the people of this novel traveled on horseback, chopped trees to build homes, and broke the ice in the water bucket in the morning for several months a year. An even bigger difference is the importance of honor. The everyday people of Grey’s novels have no concept of behaviors that are "all right" as long as they are kept secret. They would feel dishonored to do anything that had to be hidden.
Zane Grey was enchanted by the West. Set him down anywhere that was away from cities, and his soul would bathe in the environment. His love of nature was eloquent, a little longwinded, but less so than most books of the time. A nature-lover can still refresh him- or herself in UNDER THE TONTO RIM, whether it is tromping over any obstacle to follow a bee line, racing a storm toward a dry roof and a fire, or simply sitting on a high point surrounded by wilderness.
UNDER THE TONTO RIM is one of my most frequent rereads among Zane Grey’s highly rereadable books. Daily life on the Rim, the wonderful settings, the growth the main characters go through, their passionate but restrained love affairs, their sacrifices and rewards – none of it ever grows stale.
Zane Grey's books go in and out of print. UNDER THE TONTO RIM is currently "out," but I found 19 copies available on Amazon alone.
January 2004 Review
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