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The child who fulfills a prophecy and saves his people is ""the Kid"" in Hall's surreal new Western, a novel striving to be an epic of frontier life, but coming closer to pastiche. Hall likes to rework the Western (Warlock, The Bad Lands), and he knows his stock characters the way a repertory company of actors knows theirs. The hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, the Chinese cook, the Indian chief wearing his black stovepipe hat--if Hall weren't already tongue-in-cheek, it would be hard to stick with him. But the archness of the prose and dialogue has its own pleasures: ""Kid, there is a blind fellow up town looking for you.""--""What's a blind fellow looking for me with?"" And the story has fights and chases enough to fill several movie serials, because before the Kid arrives there are a lot of would-be Kids who fail at the quest, for one reason or another. The story is told in their voices: Henry Plummet, a child genius with gun or knife, forced to kill the evil sheriff--and doomed to take his place; Lieutenant Grace, the gallant cavalryman who comes within a hair of succeeding by dash and pluck, but is blinded by lust and then truly blinded; Dockerty, a wise man with horses and a fool for liquor. The object of the Kid's coming is Flora, the beautiful ""schoolmarm,"" whose role is to be continually kidnapped and mislaid by the black-clad gang of Big Mac. The quest is to return the West to its natural splendor through a coalition of Indians and environment-minded cowboys like the Kid, overthrowing Big Mac's strip-mining of the Lost Dutchman Mine. But though Hall aims for big-screen special effects, his penchant for relying on easy symbolism (Kid is Jesus, of course, and there's a Dr. Balthazar, and a Joseph, and three Kings) keeps the reader from ever being carried away. When you add to this too many aphorisms that seem to have been culled from a syllabus for a beginning philosophy course, the result is tedious. The Coming of The Kid is an often clever retelling of some of the world's oldest myths, but even in the current vogue of apocalyptic Westerns its story makes rather uncompelling reading.

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 1985
Publisher: Harper & Row