Facing Old Age and Searching for Regeneration in a Dying American West: Gregory Martin’s Mountain City

  • David Río UPV/EHU, University of the Basque Country


Contemporary western American literature is increasingly departing from the traditional association between the West and youth in classical frontier mythology, showing an aging, gray and often ill West, as illustrated by authors such as Cormac McCarthy, Marilynne Robinson, Wallace Stegner and Ken Haruf, to name just a few examples. This perspective also plays a powerful role in Gregory Martin’s Mountain City (2000), an impressive memoir about a decaying Nevada mining town and its aging population. This article explores the interaction between living and aging in Martin’s book. It is often a continuous dialogical process of exchange and overlap where Martin revises western mythology centered on the youth trope and deconstructs negative images of old age and disease. Martin offers a realistic portrait of a fading western way of life. However, his emphasis on the vanishing condition of traditional western stereotypes turns out to be problematic. In fact, Martin’s bleak vision of the Old West and its broken promises coexists in Mountain City with his recognition of the pervasive quality of the archetypal western regenerative influence, as exemplified by the power of this declining community to heal the narrator’s placelessness and provide him with a sense of “homeplace” and a cultural identity.Keywords: American West; non-fiction; Gregory Martin; old age; place; identity; home

Author Biography

David Río, UPV/EHU, University of the Basque Country
David Río is Professor of American Literature at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) in Vitoria-Gasteiz, where he also coordinates a research group (REWEST) specialized in the literature of the American West. He is the author of El proceso de la violencia en la narrativa de Robert Penn Warren (1995), Robert Laxalt: The Voice of the Basques in American Literature (2007) and New Literary Portraits of the American West: Contemporary Nevada Fiction (2014).


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