Where Nothing Is Long Ago by Virginia Sorensen, 1955
The magic trick:
Self-consciously offering a bit of social and cultural history, knowing the audience won’t be familiar with the story’s setting
We’re off to Utah this week.
We begin with Virginia Sorensen’s pretty wonderful memoir of her Mormon youth. I love the notion that nothing in the American West is long ago – or at least was – because its history doesn’t date very far back.
It’s definitely a story that self-consciously knows it’s introducing its audience to a new world. Like this was not probably written with the people of early-to-mid-century Utah in mind. This is a story that is explaining a setting and a way of life to an audience of New Yorker readers and other interested literary tourists.
So we get a fairly lengthy explanation of how water was meted out in the community, why it was so valuable, and how it often caused fights. In fact, the story’s central plot event – a killing in the community by a church regular – is tied to this system of water sharing.
It’s a very interesting way to learn cultural and social history.
And that’s quite a trick on Sorensen’s part.
That’s a very Western query. A poem written by Thomas Hornsby Ferril begins “Here in America nothing is long ago …” and that’s very Western, too. People out West remember when important things were settled violently, and they remember the wide, dry wastes before the mountain water was captured and put to use. Even now, the dry spaces, where the jack rabbits hop through the brush as thick as mites on a hen, are always there, waiting to take over; dryness hugs the green fields, pushing in, only the irrigation ditches keeping it at bay.
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