Picks and Pans Review: Dream West
by David Nevin
John Charles Frémont was the bastard son of a poor immigrant French teacher. Handsome and charming, he got a push up the social ladder in 1841 when he married the 16-year-old daughter of Sen. Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. Thanks to his new connections, Frémont was charged with exploring the West of the 1840s. He was also an early practitioner of hype. His extravagant writings about his exploits made him a national hero—he was the first Republican Party candidate for President, running on an antislavery platform. (Charles Walker, an explorer who roamed the raw West with Frémont, once described him as "morally and physically...the most complete coward I ever knew...I would say, he was timid as a woman if it were not casting an unmerited reproach on the sex.") Nevin, author of several nonfiction books on the Old West, has chosen to make Frémont the hero of this big, lushly written romantic novel, portraying the explorer as strong, honest, brave, a devoted husband—all the clichés we have come to expect in paperback romances. Frémont himself would have loved these 600 pages of glowing puffery and so will fans of adventure fantasies set in America's past. (Putnam, $17.95)
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