by Ron Hansen ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 27, 1983
Hansen, who used an effective memoir frame for Desperadoes, constructs this less successful western ""faction"" along the lines of that old TV show You Are There--dramatizing the Jesse James story with well-written, artful descriptions. . . yet also drawing away to show us the frame like an announcer's binding narration. The story is set up immediately: having botched the Northfield bank holdup, the James gang sits quiet a while and then returns to train robbing. The time is 1881, and Jesse James is at the height of his status as mythic hero. Then, with his brother Charley, 19-yearold Bob Ford weasels his way into the gang: he's a sniveling, unctuous, craven boy-but Jesse, almost spookily dignified and spiritually calm, seems not to notice or much care. And this is the novel's best section, with Jesse treating Bob's instability as a kind of test of his own character and detachment. . . while Bob continually fails prey to the inherent foulness in his character. Soon, however, with Jesse murdered in a seemingly pre-ordinaed act, Bob discovers that the Missouri governor's enormous reward--and the pardon from a murder sentence--have spared him merely for a life of contempt by others: to kill a folk hero is to attack imagination, and the short remainder of Bob's life is sordid in every way. Hansen is historically precise: ""Bob raised a brick of yellow soap to his nose smelling its ingredients: rainwater, sal soda, unslaked lime; tallow, rosin, salt."" But only occasionally can he get tension into this documentary approach; and the zooms between close-up and voice-over soon become predictable and sapping. Thoughtful, artful reconstruction--yet largely uninvolving, without the nostalgic tug of Desperadoes.
Pub Date: Oct. 27, 1983
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983
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