A Texas-sized novel of the way west-by-southwest.
When we first meet Gideon Jones, Portis Goar and Knobby Cotton, we’re on the outskirts of Cormac McCarthy country: After all, Knobby has just shot Portis—better known as Eye, though Eye Goar is probably not meant to call Young Frankenstein to mind—plumb through the chest, and Jones, “the itinerant drummer of lightning rods, self-taught undertaker, and fledgling journalist” is busily packing cedar sap into the wound to stop the bleeding. We never quite enter the territory, though. Wier’s language is less exacting and less exalted than McCarthy’s, and though it has something in common with that of Blood Meridian, the action is deliberate and sometimes mannered, without McCarthy’s spasms of violence. Weir (Writing/Univ. of Tenn., Knoxville) nods at other books, especially Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, in this ambitious novel of the troubled settling of Texas, once populated by characters with names such as Melon Breasts Woman and White Rump. There are many ghosts and half-buried skulls about this multicultural place, where Yankees mingle with Rebels and blacks and Comanches and Germans and various mixes of the aforesaid, the blend of people who would come to be called Tejanos. Like soldiering for the ill-fated Confederacy, as one character observes, Wier’s narrative strands often “don’t turn out the way you expected,” notably in the matter of a poor fellow named Alexander Wesley, who carries his amputated arm with him and pays a steep price for his devotion to his former limb. There are surprises and solid payoffs in the twisting plotline, which weaves the stories of many characters, the luckiest of whom make it through in one piece and alive to do the business of settling the West—until, that is, Wier brings this long, winding tale to a close and bumps off even the most likable of them.
A leisurely, credible recreation of the Lone Star past.