"The Loop" -- An Oregon Collaboration

In 1931, thirteen Oregon writers collaborated to create “The Loop: A Tale of the Oregon Country,” a novel originally published by the Oregon Journal in serial form. They were a mix of men and women, all experienced in publishing novels and short stories for magazines such as Colliers, Harpers and the Saturday Evening Post. They dove into the project "for the entertainment of the game and for the value it might have in making Oregon readers conscious of the real size of the group of practicing professional writers that the state already boasts."

Author Dean Collins wrote the first and final chapters and devised the plot structure for the others to follow. The manuscript then circulated round-robin fashion, with each author contributing two, non-sequential chapters. According to the book's foreword, the whole project was completed by the group in about three months with "not a face slapped among them in the whole time."

The screwball action-romance novel relates the travels and misadventures of a dashing young couple who “meet cute” (as they say in the moving picture business) on the road to Hood River. The two quickly become ensnared in trouble and find themselves on the run from the law. Along the way, they pose as a circus act, encounter escaped convicts and wander through a raging forest fire. They may be responsible for a man's death and for violating the Mann Act. The pace is breathless and the setting is Oregon, starting on the Columbia River highway, venturing across the river to Goldendale, then back to Oregon to Zig Zag, Government Camp and environs --the Loop-- as shewn on this map from the book's frontispiece:

Dashing Don Malcomb is the scion of an established Oregon family—handsome, athletic and charming. At the story’s outset, Don is fleeing Portland and an arranged marriage, risking his share of the family fortune rather than agreeing to marry the “estimable young lady” with whom his family wishes to pair him. Don heads east via the Columbia River highway to find work in the hayfields of Eastern Oregon. (If the story were set in contemporary times, Don would be riding a bike on his way to join an indie rock band).

In the first chapter, Don encounters the independent firebrand, Patricia Thorne, also from a well-to-do family. Like Don, Pat has struck out after her guardian informed her that he has chosen a fine young man for her to marry. You have figured out where this is headed, haven't you?

Complicating this affair is the fact that Don and Pat’s respective families have been engaged in a feud for several generations. The cause of the feud isn’t mentioned, but doesn’t really matter. We pretty much know that the rift is going to be healed by these young, hot-headed whippersnappers.

Had this book been made into a movie, I imagine the producers would have cast Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in the lead roles--or perhaps the Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert we know from “It Happened One Night.” Another apt comparison would be to William Powell and Myrna Loy in “The Thin Man” thanks to the sassy repartee in which they engage (sans martinis). The pair is even accompanied by a rescued Sealyham terrier that sounds an awful lot like Asta, the wirehair terrier from the movies. (The dog, McTavish, takes a licking but keeps popping up at the right moments--convenient because he gives the characters a reason to express their thoughts out loud).

I often read a few books at a time, picking up one or another depending on my mood. While reading “The Loop,” my other choice was Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men.” Both novels are rooted in their respective regions with the landscape almost becoming a character in each story. Both novels involve the pursuit of criminal fugitives. In “The Loop,” the authorities are hunting for Don and Pat because they think they’ve stolen a car and injured a shady rodeo/circus operator during a mock horseback wedding. In “No Country,” a really nasty hitman is search for a guy who purloined millions of dollars from a drug deal gone sour, a sheriff is searching for the hitman, and another hitman is also searching for the money (a kind of a cat and mouse game, with a rabid dog or two thrown in to make it more exciting). In “The Loop” the action reaches a climax with an escape from a forest fire, followed by a denouement in which misunderstandings are resolved and the happy couple head off on a honeymoon. In “No Country,” several people get holes punched in their foreheads with a cattle gun, others are blown to pieces, cars explode and burn, and then there's the blood. In the end, nothing is resolved except that the Sheriff retires rather than face the unspeakable darkness that is destroying the country. Other than that, they’re practically the same.

The Loop” was included in the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission’s selection of the top 100 books that best define the state and its people (at least between 1800 and 2000). That list was issued in celebration of the Oregon State Library’s Centennial (it covers 1800 to 2000), and is not to be confused with the Oregon 150 list of books that “present a comprehensive view of the Oregon experience, including the stories and voices of the tribes that inhabited Oregon for millennia to those of the many cultures that live here today.” “The Loop” did not make the latter list—I suspect because it is out of print and its charm feels dated. These days we're all too sophisticated for breathless adventure and swooning and uncomplicated stories with happy endings ... aren't we?

Here is a list of the erstwhile authors, along with a photo of most of them:

Dean Collins, Sabra Conner, Harold Bradley Say, Anthony Euwer, Charles Alexander, Robert Ormond Case, Kathleen MacNeal Clark, Theodore Acland Harper, Sheba May Hargreaves, Stewart Holbrook and Major John D. Guthrie.

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