WHILE ANGELS DANCE: The Life and Times of Jeston Nash by Ralph W. Cotton

WHILE ANGELS DANCE: The Life and Times of Jeston Nash

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A treatment for a gangster movie dressed in western clothes, this first novel could be a statement about western myth, but the mindless violence makes it just pornographic. Jeston Nash, the proud son of a Kentucky farmer, has a natural gift for anything involving horses. But the Civil War is on, and what once would have been a fistfight over a horse deal gone sour ends with Jeston killing the other boy in self-defense. ClichÉs pile up as Jeston's father sacrifices himself uselessly and Jeston links up with his cousins Frank and Jesse James and their gang. The group robs, murders, and plunders its way across Missouri, Kansas, and as far north as Chicago, moving toward a jarringly humorous denouement, Jeston makes an enemy of Daniel Zanone, an incestuous and corrupt lawman (but then, all the lawmen in the book are corrupt), and this hostility loosely links the scenes of ritualistic violence that are the book's raison d'être. Jeston falls in lust with a society girl who is later instrumental in his reentry into society and his partial redemption by love. He also rescues a Chinese whore from gang rape and keeps her in a remote cabin as his mistress for seven years. Cotton tries to build a moral into the story; he claims the book is based on his grandfather's reminiscences about the JamesYounger gang, tales that in the novel become Jeston's effort to deglamorize gang membership for his young son. This worthy stab at undercutting the genre is doomed to failure by a clichÉ-ridden plot, pancake-fiat characters, and lovingly realized acts of violence. First novelist Cotton writes well, has an intriguing philosophical bent, and convincingly fictionalizes historical research; maybe next time he will put these talents to better use.

Pub Date: June 20th, 1994
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's