THIS IS the quintessential man's book, full of fornicatin' and defecatin', tobacco-chawin' and tough talkin'. Set in the American West during the 1830s, Carry the Wind describes, in sometimes stupefying detail, the maturation of young Josiah Paddock, from St. Louis clerk into an authentic mountain man. Spurned by his highborn French sweetheart, Josiah polishes off his rival in a somewhat unorthodox duel--kicking him to death--and heads west. After starving, freezing, and other difficulties, he is picked up by Ol' Scratch, an experienced trapper, who teaches him how to survive in the wilderness and introduces him to the pleasures of "ronnyvoo"--the yearly gathering of mountain men for purposes of trading and R & R. Here Josiah meets the flamboyant trapper and self-appointed man of God, Asa McAfferty, whose nemesis he is destined to become.
Johnston knows his material. The details of daily life in the early West, among isolated trappers and Indian tribes, are rich and fascinating and occasionally revolting. The descriptions of scenery and terrain are well done. Such details slow down the pace, but they are absorbing enough to keep the reader turning the pages; however, one may be tempted to skip some of the hunters' spiels, which are a little too authentically prolix, and which employ a dialect difficult to decipher. The book's worst flaw is a certain awkwardness of style; transitions are clumsy, flashbacks are poorly handled, and the prose sometimes stumbles over its own feet. Young Josiah isn't a very winning character, despite his lapses into sentimentality over scenery, women, and other non-essential elements of life. But there is a genuine flavor of the period and of the men who made it what it was; western history buffs will undoubted find the book worthwhile.
Invidious as distinctions in terms of gender may be, it is probable that Carry the Wind will appeal to more men than women, while the reverse will be true of The Seeds of Singing.