According to the Jacket Blurb . . .
Vertical Man/Horizontal World: Man and Landscape in Canadian Prairie Fiction (University of British Columbia Press, 1973).
Ricou argues that man is intimidated by the vastness which so surrounds him, and “he will almost certainly wish to meet the challenge of this land, to say ‘Look, look!’ in whatever way he can, by raising a crop or a monument, by interpreting his experience in paint or in words.”
Ricou traces this recurrent theme in prairie fiction from writers such as Frederick Philip Grove and Wallace Stegner, Edward McCourt and W.O. Mitchell, to Margaret Laurence and Robert Kroetsch.
In tracing the relationship of man and land from the earliest writers of prairie fiction to the most recent, Ricou shows how the calm and benign relationship of man and land as exemplified, for instance, in the fiction of Robert Stead and W.O. Mitchell has changed in recent novels to a more dramatic confrontation. [“The novelists] find in [the landscape] an ideal mirror for the dilemma (and often the strength) of existential man.”
Critic Henry Kreisel once wrote: “To conquer a piece of the continent, to put one’s imprint upon virgin land, to say ‘Here I am, for that I came’, is as much a way of proving one’s existence, as is Descartes’ cogito, ergo sum.” Vertical Man/Horizontal World is an affirmation of Kreisel’s statement. Slowly and cumulatively Ricou traces the image of man leaving his mark on the empty, sometimes nightmarish land of the Canadian prairie. “How do we fit our time and our place?” is a question posed by all the writers Ricou examines. “The answer,” he says, “at this point in the evolution of the evolution of Canadian prairie fiction, delivered with conviction…is: abruptly and uneasily, but brazenly and delightedly.”