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New Literary Portraits of the American West

Contemporary Nevada Fiction

David Rio

This book focuses on contemporary Nevada fiction as one of the most probing and intense literary explorations of the American West as a whole. Recent fictional representations of Nevada possess a revelatory value in relation to the whole West because they encompass some of the most common thematic trends in contemporary western writing. Actually, the thematic maturation of Nevada fiction over the last four decades often parallels the evolution of postfrontier writing, in particular, its growing departure from the overused topics and images of the formula western. Nevada fiction also possesses some unique and distinctive themes, such as its depiction of Basque immigrants, its emphasis on nuclear testing and nuclear waste, and its portrait of such peculiar cities as Reno and Las Vegas. This study discusses contemporary writing set in Nevada both by Nevadans (Robert Laxalt, Frank Bergon, Willy Vlautin, Phyllis Barber, Claire Vaye Watkins…) and by non-resident authors (Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, Larry McMurtry…), drawing new attention to a remarkable literature that has been too often neglected in discussions of the American West.
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Most of the research for the present volume has been carried out in Nevada, mainly at the University of Nevada, Reno. My first visits to this state in the mid-1990s provided me with the opportunity to interview some of the most acclaimed authors of contemporary Nevada fiction, such as Robert Laxalt, Frank Bergon, and Monique Urza. In the early 2000s I expanded the scope of my research, initially devoted almost exclusively to Basque American authors, to deal with contemporary Nevada fiction at large. Since then I have conducted interviews with other writers of fiction set in Nevada, for example, Californian Richard Stookey, Phyllis Barber, H. Lee Barnes, and Felicia Campbell, and also with prominent scholars in the field of western literary criticism, such as Richard W. Etulain, David Fenimore, María Herrera-Sobek, Neil Campbell, and Cheryll Glotfelty, to name just a few. All of them provided me with helpful advice and valuable feedback. My gratitude extends to other scholars who contributed significantly to the progress of my research while in Nevada, such as William Douglass (founder of the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, and its director until 2000) and Joseba Zulaika, and to many other people who offered me their friendship and hospitality in Reno and Las Vegas, particularly Rhina Guidos, Mariajo Rodríguez, and Hellen Quan-Lopez.

Special thanks are also due to those institutions that supported my research during all these years. In fact, the book was completed under the...

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