Run Sheep Run by Thames Williamson. Small, Maynard (1925), 277 pp.
Large and laconic, Bill Hardy is helping with the sheep shearing on the Dikkels ranch in the Central Valley. He’s primarily a herder and will soon be taking 2,000 sheep into the Sierra to graze. For the entire summer Narcisse, his longtime herding partner, will provide his only human contact. In the meantime, Bill silently accepts razzing by the Mexican shearers for living without female companionship. The two herders are instructed to push the flock east into the Lost Mountains, even though the grasslands there are now part of a restricted forest preserve. Just as they reach the forbidden area, Narcisse becomes seriously ill. Bill decides he can’t linger and continues the journey with only Paddy, his loyal sheep dog, to help with the herd.
Readers expecting a sort of fictionalized Walden are in for a big surprise. It’s true that the narrator often waxes rhapsodic about the environment: stern peaks, starlit nights, beautiful flowers, perky animals. The protagonist, however, is immune to the wonders of the wilderness. Bill finds in nature only threats -- to the wellbeing of the sheep and to his own psychological stability, made increasingly precarious by unintended solitude. Williamson pulls off a neat trick here. As the protagonist becomes less sympathetic, he grows more compelling. The novel moves swiftly. Readers will need to get used to dialog containing lines such as “Ba-a-a-a-a! Ba-a-a-a-a! Ba-a-a-a-a!” Once they do, they may well find the book fascinating.