I want to start this out by saying thank you to the University of Oklahoma Press for publication of “Animal Stories: A Lifetime Collection” by Max Evans. These 26 stories reflect the development of writer. They were experienced, conceived, written and published over a 62 year span. That in itself is an achievement. They were spawned by the experiences of a man of the West. Some are nonfiction, but most are fiction strongly based in reality.
These stories are all about animals from prairie dogs and coyotes to cows and most of all horses. Max is one of the most skilled, original fiction writers working today. Given the fact that he is an octogenarian his body of work spans much of a century, which means there is diversity of expression reflected in the advancement of a career as a writer.
The nonfiction pieces regarding match horse races are extremely well-developed, while Max’s ability to use expressive language is legendary.
’Ol Max is a master of short fiction. Every story in this collection is based in some form of reality, of that I am certain. The “fiction” may relate to place, dialogue, or some actions, but almost certainly there is a foundation of actual events that inspired each story, whether an account of a deer hunt or a recollection of a favorite horse. Most authentic in his writing is the sense of place. You know that he has ridden the country of which he writes; that he has hunted deer in deep timber, dogged cattle out of thickets, and stumbled across meadows no doubt wishing he had a horse to ride.
Evans’s use of favorite characters like Jim Ed Love, and frequent return to his favorite setting — the area of New Mexico he dubbed Hi-Lo Country — gives a thread of continuity to many of the stories making them a true collection, not disparate pieces. But there is great diversity here, too, and there are definitely “stand-alone” pieces that will give readers exposure to the breadth of his creativity.
I read the stories in this book long ago — some of them at the time of their original creation. His “Once A Cowboy” was first published in the anthology of short fiction I co-edited with Max (“Hot Biscuits: 18 Stories by Women and Men of the Ranching West”).
I also read this entire collection prior to publication in this form, when doing some evaluation of the manuscript for the University of Oklahoma Press. At that time, I was asked if there were comparable books on this subject to which I replied: “No one can compete with Max Evans. He is a classic writer. There are many anthologies of fiction/nonfiction, and no doubt some of them may have stories about animals. But none would represent such an extensive body of work created over such a large span of years.”
It is the full depth of this collection that still astounds me. As you read the stories they reflect not only the stories of a variety of animals, but also the evolution of a writer. Stories such as “One-Eyed Sky,” “The Heart of the Matter,” “Once A Cowboy,” and “My Pardner” are to be appreciated the first time you read them, and savored at each opportunity to return and read them a second, or third, or fourth time.
This is a book anyone who knows and understands the western landscape and its animals will savor. ❖