Review

The Wandering Hill: The Berrybender Narratives, Book 2

by Larry McMurtry



Larry McMurtry is best known for his western novels. His reputation
for such would be carved indelibly in stone simply on the strength
of LONESOME DOVE. While he is equally masterful in his crafting of
straight genre fiction (THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and TERMS OF
ENDEARMENT, to name but two), it is the western, the oater, the
horse opera, with which he is most immediately associated. His
joinder with that genre is further cemented, as if it really needed
to be, with what has become known as The Berrybender Narratives;
THE WANDERING HILL is the second book of the projected quadrilogy.
The book and the series are both a reminiscence of, and a tribute
to, the dime novels and pulp serials that were once the staple
media of American fiction.

It should be stated at the outset that enjoyment of THE WANDERING
HILL will be increased immeasurably by first reading its
predecessor, SIN KILLER. SIN KILLER serves as an introduction to
the Berrybender family, a wealthy English clan who is on a combined
expedition and extended holiday on the Western frontier. Though
there is a cast of dozens here, thoughtfully listed in the front of
SIN KILLER and THE WANDERING HILL, the focus of both books is
Tasmin Berrybender, eldest of the Berrybender children, who is
wedded to and pregnant by Jim Snow, a.k.a. Sin Killer, a rugged
frontiersman whose veneer of civilization is quite thin, indeed.
Snow and Tasmin are polar opposites --- she is spoiled and rich, he
is orphaned and living off the land. THE WANDERING HILL finds both
of them moving, frequently kicking and screaming, toward a common
center with their newborn child --- truly a child of the new world
--- serving as a catalyst.

They are surrounded by an ever-changing assortment of characters
who are added and subtracted by whim of fate. Not the least of whom
is Lord Berrybender, the impetus behind this wild trip to the
United States and whose behavior is such that he heedlessly puts
himself, and all around him, at great peril. Berrybender's grip
upon his sanity, never too sure to begin with, seems especially
variable and tenuous by the end of THE WANDERING HILL, with
predictably unpredictable results.

The setting of THE WANDERING HILL --- the American frontier ---
provides its own built-in suspense mechanism. Death or
dismemberment could come at any moment, whether by the instrument
of weather, animals, or human beings. All get their turn in THE
WANDERING HILL. And the instrument from which the title of this
volume takes its name, a portend (by Indian legend) of destruction
and misfortune, could be real. Or not. An argument could be made
for either.

McMurtry reports the proceedings with an unflinching eye; one never
knows when a twist of fate or an ill-advised move will suddenly
remove a character from this side of the literary veil. His
descriptions range from the wryly humorous to the horrific,
sometimes within a single paragraph. If there is any downside
herein, it is that McMurtry's readership will have to wait yet
another year to discover what will next befall the Berrybender clan
and those who they might encounter along the way.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011

The Wandering Hill: The Berrybender Narratives, Book 2
by Larry McMurtry

  • Publication Date: May 13, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction, Western
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743233034
  • ISBN-13: 9780743233033