A mixed martial arts fighter draws on the spirit of his mountain-man ancestor during a precarious Western journey in this debut novel.
Brendan “Bear” Glass is an MMA combatant whose raw power has won him some fame. In his latest match, he is beaten to a pulp by his opponent and ends up in a bloody pile on the floor. He is astonished to learn that his manager had given him rat poison in order to make the bout gorier. Badly injured, he won’t fight again, so he connects with his nephew, Branch. Brendan plans to build an enormous marijuana-growing facility under the guise of a luxury gym and resort in Montucky—backwoods Montana. The goal will be to transport the weed from California to the new site without getting stopped by the police. Two hundred years earlier, Hugh Glass, Brendan’s ancestor, an old mountain man, takes the same journey, though for Hugh it is just after the Lewis and Clark expedition. Hugh is a former sailor, plunderer, and survivor of a notable bear attack. He’s killing time as a fur trapper, waiting six years before he and his partner go back to retrieve some treasure they hid after stealing it from a French pirate. In the present day, Brendan is gripped by a sudden pain and detours to an abandoned sweat lodge, the same one that Hugh recovered in after the bear attack. There, Brendan makes a mystical connection to his ancestor that may help him with his uncertain future. Gaddis’ novel unleashes a flurry of Western sights and sounds that stretch from St. Louis to Mendocino, California, in two wildly different centuries. The old times, inside Mandan Indian villages and Colonial forts, are described in forthright, heedful language, while the contemporary story holds on to similar circumspection (“Now it’s an arid collection of collapsed lean-tos, yurts, willow benders and dilapidated canned ham trailers amid weed-ridden garden plots with fallen fences”). Amid the book’s brisk plot, the exploration of the roots of Western families is impressive, depicting the players as cunning self-starters in a diverse world of opportunity and peril. While Brendan’s dreams of a hydroponics empire aren’t quite as alluring as the tale of Hugh and the bear, they are similarly scrupulous and analogous in spirit.
An entertaining, discerning take on the connections between the Old and New West.