All eight of Don Zancanella's wry, pristinely written stories have memorable settings in the historical or contemporary American West, ranging from love among abandoned missile silos to a tale of Laotian refugees in Wyoming to an account of a traveling chimpanzee show. Collectively they form a kind of alternative history of this too-often-stereotyped region.
Some of the stories take as their theme the coming of technology to the western wilderness—television, telephones, telescopes, missiles, even an imaginative account of a visit by inventor Thomas Edison to the Rocky Mountains. Others focus on small-town intolerance, calling into question the myth of individualism and heroic self-reliance set forth in Hollywood.
There is a vivid strain of the fantastic in these stories, a beguiling, offbeat quality that links them. However, despite some extraordinary events and quirky exteriors, most of the characters are typical of the kind of people one might meet in small towns anywhere—schoolteachers, career soldiers, Native American teenagers, telephone line workers, ranchers, cooks, wagon masters. Almost all of them have very mixed feelings about the time and place in which they find themselves. For them the West is not a promised land but a place they have to make the best of. It is these human copings that unite Zancanella's prize-winning collection.