SHOSHONE MIKE by Frank Bergon


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A revisionist Western about the pursuit by an avenging posse of an Indian family, suspected murderers, in 1911 Nevada. The eponymous Shoshone Mike has decided that a nomadic life is better for his family than the living death of the reservation. Trouble starts when one of Mike's sons surprises some white horse thieves, who shoot him dead. There is a reprisal killing; the Indians are now fugitives. Subsequently, Mike's sons ambush and kill four white cattlemen, about to apprehend them for slaughtering their stock. A posse is formed by the Nevada State Police. Sheriff Lamb wants to hold the posse's desire for vengeance in check but is excluded from the final confrontation; the result is a massacre in which nine people are killed, four of them women and children. These are the bare bones. There is much more, notably an episode in which two of the trashy horse thieves receive due process for a hold-up and double murder, in contrast to the treatment of the Indians. Bergon weaves back and forth in time, with much variation in point of view, to produce the antithesis of a blood-and-guts Western; he is as much concerned with perceptions as with events. Thus Mike views whites as ""wild, unpredictable people,"" which is how whites view Indians; but not all whites. Sheriff Lamb, for example, ""felt his job was to let different people live in different ways without killing each other."" Most of the white characters experience a psychological dislocation to match the Indians' physical dislocation. Bergon's approach ensures a rich texture for his first novel, but at the expense of narrative excitement; the effect is of a throttled engine. Next time he may let it rip.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Viking