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by Thomas Berger

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-316-09844-2
Publisher: Little, Brown

It was fun to see the boyishly aging cops of CHiPs on the road again—and just about everybody hopes Mary and Rhoda will get together once more. But no reappearance could be more welcome than that of Thomas Berger’s fictional centenarian (and more), Jack Crabb, protagonist and, in his way, hero of the now-classic Little Big Man (1964), hands down the ne plus ultra among novels about the American Old West—until now, that is: for we—re about to learn that the resourceful Jack only pretended to die in an old-folks’ home at age 111 (thus eluding his avaricious ghostwriter), and that he survived to relate the comparably amazing adventures that came after his survival of the Battle of Little Big Horn. These occurred during Jack’s itinerant middle years in the several western territories (some not yet states) and abroad, and they include his intimate associations with such eminent and romantic figures as Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, Annie Oakley, and Buffalo Bill Cody—and, in a spectacularly hilarious chapter, England’s Queen Victoria. Jack’s Zelig-like penchant for showing up in key places at momentous times occasions vivid first-person accounts of events both ignoble (a farcical misadventure at a “mission school” where he works as a Cheyenne translator) and legendary (the novel’s major set-pieces: “The Gunfight That Never Happened at the O.K. Corral” and the story of the great Indian leader Sitting Bull’s sad fate). All is told in a vigorous colloquial voice whose earthy accents often echo perfectly the impertinent horse sense of Mark Twain (“The Catholics . . . us[e] Latin which nobody understands and therefore seems more like a language God would speak”) and plaintively lament both the white man’s rape of Native America and the ornery persistence with which people continue misunderstanding one another. This magnificent sequel ends with Jack’s teasing half-promise that he—ll live on even longer and tell the rest of his story. And why shouldn’t we believe him? Jack Crabb is already one of the immortals.