>

Exploring the art of fiction

Menu

Author: Annika Barranti Klein


Author’s Note

I love Westerns. I also hate Westerns, because the entire genre is predicated on colonialism. Stories of the Indigenous people who were here first, of the Black people who were kidnapped and brought here against their will, of the Chinese immigrants who built the infrastructure of the West and were then excluded from citizenship, of the (often white) immigrant women who had little to no say over their lives—all of these stories and more have historically been erased, if they are written in the first place, in favor of heroic stories of white cowboys (in reality, one in four cowboys were Black, many were Mexican, and not all were male), gambling men with guns, and “the pioneer spirit.” Sometimes, for a change, Westerns are about heroic soldiers of the Civil War (usually on the Confederate side). The women whose stories are told are, for the most part, the “exceptional” women, i.e. the ones most like men (but not queer women, of course). And of course, those stories are very often written by men.

I am a white American cis woman. I grew up reading the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder and not questioning Pa’s desire to go west and Ma’s fear of “Indians.” As a child I was afraid of the woman with the knife who threatened her husband because she wanted to go home to the east (These Happy Golden Years). Now I want to know her story.

What happens to a woman whose husband decides to go west, a woman who is forced to leave everything familiar—most likely her family, friends, perhaps a job, and certainly the place she knows—and live in isolation in the great wide open, where the wind sweeps across the prairie so loudly it could drive you mad? Does she disappear into herself, as Ma did? Become hard and libertarian, as Laura did? Or does she end up scared and desperate, threatening her husband with a knife in the dark? If she could find happiness, satisfaction, what would it look like?

As a teenager I graduated to Willa Cather’s stories of struggling immigrants. Reading My Antonia at age sixteen changed my life in ways that I struggle to articulate twenty-five years later. What I do know is that Cather used language to convey the feeling of a West that I had not seen before, one that rang true for me. When I moved west in 2002, I did not find melancholy; to me, the wide-open skies and endless plains are beautiful. But I do not have to live in them in isolation; in fact, I kept going all the way to California.

The stories of Black women, Indigenous women, and other women of color in the American West are not mine to tell. The Western genre is slowly becoming more inclusive, and it is my hope that BIPOC authors, especially women and other marginalized genders, are given room to tell their stories. I have written at Book Riot about Western books that are not only white men’s stories. They exist, and more are coming. With any luck, movies will eventually catch up and follow suit.

What I hope I have accomplished with “Prairie Fever” is to answer—hopefully without erasing anyone else’s voice—the questions I asked above: for a white woman who is in the West without wanting to be there, who has few options and must withstand ceaseless winds, what might satisfaction look like?

 


ANNIKA BARRANTI KLEIN grew up in New York, dreaming of the prairies. Instead, she ended up in Los Angeles, surrounded by high desert. She is a writer of short stories, poems, and novels, and a contributing editor at Book Riot. She lives with her family in a tiny apartment full of books. Her favorite Western movies are Silverado, Rio Bravo, and The Magnificent Seven. Her favorite Western novels are Topaz, My Antonia, Anything For Billy, and the one she has yet to write. Her flash fiction is at Enchanted Conversation and her poetry is at Fireside. This is her first story-length publication. Find her online at annikaobscura.com.