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Two groups of brief impressionistic sketches--one group about outlaw queen Belle Starr, the other about the death of Jesse James. The Belle Starr portion stresses her many lovers, including an enigmatic ""fiddler"" who supposedly remained her lifelong true passion--for years after he was killed by a jealous rival. There are the thoughts of brief husband Sam Starr, early love Jim Reed (father of son Eddy), late passion Jim July (a young Creek Indian). There are musings on alternate versions of Belle's violent death. And there are bitter glimpses of Belle's children: daughter Pearl, decades after Belle's death, says ""Mama loved no one""; Oedipal son Eddy ""sees his mama drifting away from him, from all of them."" The shorter Jesse James section also takes on an Oedipal coloration--in the close relationship between the outlaw and his ""beloved maimed mother,"" in the jealousy of brother Frank. (""Jesse. Hell, he ain't Jesse. It's Frank, he wants her to know, and ever bit as good as Jesse. Some say better. . . ."") Another piece offers close-ups of Jesse's wife in mourning, recalling the moment of his murder: "". . . the red coming on the back of his head like another set of lips that she might more conveniently kiss while the other pair, those pale thin ones she remembers always drawn tight like stays, squeeze against the skin of the room."" And the remaining sections focus on the conflicting motives of the betraying Ford brothers, regretful Charley and braggart Bob (""Jesse James is dead and I am the one that done it!""), last seen trying to make new lives out of their sordid past. . . including a stint as playactors in Jesse James Betrayed. Some vividly worded short-takes for devotees of the Old West legends in psychological, de-romanticized form--but slight, fragmentary, and non-cumulative, without the coherent impact of full-length treatments by Oakley Hail, Ron Hansen, and others.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1984
Publisher: Algonquin (P.O. Box 2225, Chapel Hill, NC 27515)