Subtitle: Being a History of Alder Gulch, Montana, in its great and its shameful days, 1857-62. Pulitzer-winner Taylor's new novel, like Jamie McPheeters, is held together with marvelous rhetoric, energy, and bumptiousness while never ever going all-out for a plot. This time we follow narrator Ross Nickerson, an ex-Harvard student cast out of that great institution for his ""disruptive inability to conform,"" as he goes West and lands in Alder Gulch on the Stinking-Water River, with its riproaring gold prospectors, thieves, and mountain men of sublime ignorance, dancehall girls, gamblers, medical quacks, con artists, and Indian maidens. But Ross, who becomes a blacksmith, pretty much plays second fiddle to the Duncans, straight-talking James and verbally galloping Grantly, a pair of prospectors who always have their eye out for the main chance: running a store, a cattle business, or some boom-town ploy. About the time Ross hits town, vigilante law is coming to Alder Gulch, where violence rules and settles all argument. After all, there are real-history varmints about--like Jack Slade, who has killed 26 men at various times while drinking but who is such a gentleman while sober that--despite his horrible past--the Overland Express hires him to keep the roads clear of outlaws. With all that Americana to draw on, Taylor packs his pages with historical quotation, and he thinks nothing of interrupting an anecdote for a footnote. A lovable, bursting book, sometimes confused but mainly resplendent in its flavorsome, gold-toothpick prose and liplicking rhetoric of the tall-tale variety.