LIAR'S MOON by Philip Kimball


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Kimball (Harvesting Ballads, 1984) returns after 15 years with an ambitious, stirring and distinctive vision of the frontier West. This vigorous, alternately sad and ebullient chorus of a novel uses the tough, droll language of settler and cowboy to offer a highly original portrait of the underside of the conquest of the land. Among the many narrators are several former slaves come West in hope or desperation; an itinerant preacher with a decidedly mordant view of God’s plan and man’s follies; a settler’s daughter captured and raised by the Cheyenne; her Indian husband, a medicine man; and Cannonball, a cowboy in love with the man- and horse-killing plains of Texas (“Man owned both Texas and hell, he’d rent out Texas and live in hell”). Weaving in and out of all these lives are two misfits, absolute children of the West. Will and Sojourner, a white boy and a black girl who—ve wandered off from their families, are found and raised by a clan of coyotes; and only years later, and against their will, are they found and separated from their canine family. The boy eventually becomes a rancher, and the girl a cowboy in disguise. They are, Kimball seems to suggest, the purest product of the frontier, the unrealized possibility of a new life. Spanning some 40 years, the narrative ranges across the entire West, and the adventures of its characters, and of the wild children, include a variety of actual events, trail drives and battles, clashes between farmers and ranchers, eastern money and western wit. Inevitably, money wins, though thankfully the western wit survives. Will and Sojourner (who find and marry one another after many years apart) become, at book’s end, legend, as each of the narrators offers a version of their deaths, one more purely outrageous than the last. To persist, any genre needs occasionally to be reinvented. And Kimball reinvigorates the western with this outsized, exuberant novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 1999
ISBN: 0-8050-6148-7
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999


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