HALO by John Loveday


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 Poet Loveday's Whitman-inspired first novel is narrated by a young man named Scrag who's traveling west with a wagon train. Scrag is alone in the world, but his fellow travelers become his family. Among them are Justly, a girl who is turning into a woman; Lorelei, Justly's mother; and Sylvester, a photographer there to record the trip ``as it was.'' What Sylvester does with images, Scrag achieves with words. He describes daily life--making fires, tending the animals, skinning rabbits--and tells of the exceptional occurrences, such as the travelers' encounter with a dead Indian, or Scrag's own sexual awakening at the sight of Justly wading. Along the trail, Lorelei teaches Scrag about love while Sylvester teaches him about poetry. In one of the book's loveliest scenes, Sylvester reads aloud from Leaves of Grass by candlelight while Lorelei gently holds Scrag and Justly sleeps. These are Scrag's ``halcyon days,'' as Sylvester tells him. In the wilderness, the love between a young man and an older woman can flourish and the unschooled can appreciate poetry, but Scrag knows that the trail must eventually end. When the party reaches Halo, a violent frontier town that belies its name, things that were beautiful and innocent in the wilderness are defiled--a chambermaid leers at Lorelei and Scrag, and townspeople seize Sylvester's pictures and destroy them. Sylvester himself is arrested for perversion, and he is tried in a kangaroo court by a judge who knows nothing of art. The wagon train moves on, but with the sadness that accompanies reality. When they reach Oregon, Scrag leaves his extended family and goes on to Oregon City with Lorelei and Justly. He takes with him the lessons he learned on the trail and a purpose in life: to record truth as Sylvester has recorded it--the way it was. A haunting story told with unaffected elegance.

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 1994
ISBN: 0-15-600113-6
Page count: 286pp
Publisher: Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1994