Last Cheater’s Waltz

Meloy, Ellen. The Last Cheater’s Waltz: Beauty and Violence in the Desert Southwest. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1999.

Reason read: Most of Last Cheater’s Waltz takes place in Utah and Utah became a state in January.

Ellen Meloy is hunkered down in a corner of the desert near the San Juan River in Utah. While she and her husband, Mark, call this barren land home, it is also close to Los Alamos and the White Sands Missile Range. Meloy, using her love for the west and naturalist instincts, explores what this atomic history’s proximity means to the environment. As the subtitle implies, it’s the juxtaposition of violence and beauty across a landscape that is teeming with the will to go on.
Meloy writes with wit, humor, and dare I say, sarcasm. I found a whole slew of passages I wanted to quote. I knew I was in for a good ride when I read that Meloy had just poured scalding hot water over coffee grounds and, inadvertently, a sleeping lizard: “I sat on the front steps of the screenhouse with sunrise burning crimson on the sandstone cliffs above the river and a boiled reptile in my cup” (p 3).

Another line I liked (out of a bunch): “While I could not be certain I was simply drowsily apathetic or enraged to the point of catatonia, I thought it best to cover both fronts by considering some kind of low-grade home lobotomy or one of those highly touted anger management seminars” (p 4). One more, because it made me laugh, “I am the aunt who laughs her head off at the funeral” (p 29).

Author fact: Meloy also wrote Raven’s Exile which is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Much of Meloy’s story is about a hand-drawn map she is creating of her known universe, the circumference of land around her home in the desert. While the description of Meloy’s Map Of the Known Universe would have been fun to see, it isn’t included.

Nancy said: Nancy compared Richard Shelton’s writing to Meloy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “A Geography of Family and Place” (p 98).

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