A satire depicts George Armstrong Custer’s part in the American Indian Wars.
In 1868, in the proximate wake of the Civil War, Andrew Johnson is president, his ascendancy to the position the consequence of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Portrayed by Sumrall (Metal Storm, 2015) as insane—bipolar and schizophrenic—Johnson is under enormous pressure to counter seasonal raids by warlike Native Americans throughout the Oklahoma Territory. Johnson only trusts Lt. Col. Custer (alternately referred to as Boy General and Yellow Hair) to lead a massive attack of the 7th Cavalry against the Native Americans in the Washita Valley, an operation boldly designed by Gen. Philip Sheridan, an opioid addict, during the winter. The strategy is meant to overwhelm a modestly sized village jointly governed by the pacifistic Chief Little Rock and Black Kettle. But when a sizable Native American army returns from a raid and refuses to be restrained by the chiefs, Custer and his men find themselves suddenly overpowered. The author’s amusingly eccentric account parodies the real madness of the time: Custer’s wife, Elizabeth, so ambitiously boosts her husband’s career, she sends racy photos of herself to the president. And the pathologically suspicious Johnson tortures Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the basement of the White House in order to solicit a confession of his perfidy. At one point, fully committing himself to a surrealist brand of high absurdity, the author introduces a spacecraft manned by humanlike aliens. Sumrall’s satire hits some authentically humorous notes, and he has an intriguing sensitivity to the egomaniacal hubris of grand historical actors. In addition, the author achieves something rare—a historical novel whose plot defies readers’ anticipations. But the story devolves into slapstick silliness and eventually becomes tedious. Furthermore, the prose is ecstatically overwrought and leaden as well as confusing: “The florid, hybrid clothing apparel added a kaleidoscope of color to the growing number of warriors. This seething, tinctured panoply of garish pigmentation was converging into a sentient, multihued killing entity.” This is more a comedy routine than a volume of historical fiction, which might work if it were not a novel’s length.
An occasionally funny historical farce.