In the interconnected story cycle of “Lost Borders,” Mary Hunter Austin challenges the masculine myths of the American West through the perspective of a feminist and conservationist.
Austin was an ailing transplant from the Midwest who began to thrive personally and artistically in the desert landscape among the spiritual and expressive traditions of Native peoples. Although she published thirty-one books, most fell out of print soon after her death in 1934. In recent decades, there have been efforts to restore her to the literary canon, but she remains largely unknown compared to her contemporaries and friends Jack London, Ansel Adams, and Willa Cather.
The stories for the podcast are presented in the order in which they appear in the original book. (Listeners of the original broadcast may note differences.) Sarah Torbeck is the voice of the author that threads throughout.
In “The Return of Mr. Wills,” read by Shayne Laughter, a wife and mother gains confidence as an independent working woman, while her husband disappears into the desert on a quixotic quest for fabled gold and silver mines.
Early conservation laws and bounties on predator animals play a role in “The Last Antelope,” a heartbreaking exploration of the complex relationship between a shepherd and an aging buck in an over-hunted region. The homesteader armed with axe and gun is a twist on the western bad guy. Tony Brewer reads.
Also read by Shayne Laughter, the story “Agua Dulce” unfolds from an apparently racist remark made by a stagecoach driver, who struggles to overcome the taciturnity expected of a white male Westerner to tell about his love for a courageous and selfless Paiute woman.
Jack Hanek hosts. The poem that recurs as a refrain in the Books Unbound production appears as a prelude in the book. Berklea Going is the reader.
Special music for the episode comes from “The Light Guitar” by Patrick Zimmerli and “Graceful Ghost Rag” by William Bolcom, as performed by violinist Tim Fain and pianist Pei-Yao Wang on the album River of Light (Naxos, 2011).
This episode is produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe with assistance from Sarah Torbeck.
Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Books Unbound theme music: The Impossible Shapes