An earnest teen learns valuable life lessons in Comer’s vividly rendered debut set in the frontier country of 19th-century Montana.
Life has dealt 14-year-old Deuteronomy Jesudas Seebea a raw hand. He’s an orphan trying to make his way in the world without guidance. Worse, Deuter knows too much about shady goings-on in Clevis Hook, Montana, and is forced to leave town abruptly. He eventually makes his way to a remote outpost, a small settlement called Railstop, where the slow westward crawl of a railroad line has come to an abrupt halt. The ragtag Band of Brigands has set up shop right in the path of the only logical route for the railroad’s expansion—and they won’t go down without a fight. Railstop’s many intriguing characters include Angelique de la Bataille, proprietress of the Glory Hole Saloon; Lyman Connors, the village smithy; and the O’Doody sisters, Parsimonie and Chastity, whose rock-solid biscuits can take out unsuspecting passersby. Much of the action is centered on the residents’ efforts to win a just settlement for the railroad expansion. Trying to make his voice heard in this cacophony is young Deuter; exploited for his naiveté, he still uses worldly skills to position himself on the right side of history. The rugged, Wild West nature of Montana is one of the novel’s many highlights, as much a living, breathing character as the humans. Evocative descriptions—“Boy’s mind is like cowboy coffee, made without a filter”—and crisp, salty dialogue liven up the proceedings, often with a dash of humor. The narrative still sags toward the middle, as talks between the railroad and town lose steam and the novelty of the setting and characters begins to wear a little thin. Despite the dip, what emerges in the end is an entertaining peek at an important moment in American history, when the glamour of gold was still glittering bright and the West was being won one small outpost at a time.
A richly satisfying slice of Americana.