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Lonesome Animals (2012)
“When I lived in a little farming town called St. John, I used to sit around with the old guys and they would say stuff like, ‘We used to steal a school bus every year and drive it around town.’ And they thought it was the funniest thing in the world, and I thought it was pretty funny too.
Okay, color me skeptical that the young are "destroyed" because we tell them not to do the irresponsible things we all did in our youth. Likewise, one suspects that the development and repetition of myths--repeated by just those sorts of old guys--is pretty instrumental in developing the moral code that those young men learn to live by as they grow up. Mr. Holbert, however, has a different type of myth that he wants to share with us. It's one where the cowboy lawman at the center of the story caves in his wife's skull with a frying pan because she's slow to hand him the pepper one morning. This lawman, Russell Strawl, is so senselessly brutal for so many years that many of the locals suspect he may be the perpetrator of a series of Lecteresque serial killings that he's brought out of retirement to solve in Eastern Washington in the 1930s. Get it? In Mr. Holbert's mythical West even the "good guys" are indistinguishable from Jack the Ripper. Seems like he might be over-correcting a bit, no?
Like an early Cormac McCarthy novel, this book combines extreme and random violence with an almost Biblical or, at least Shakespearian, authorial voice, giving an awkward juxtaposition of nihilism and self-importance. Exacerbating the problem is that rather than the stripped down dialogue that McCarthy employed, this author gives us characters who are moral and intellectual dullards on the one hand but speak and think in ornate prose on the other. The language does sometimes take flight and the descriptions of the environment are detailed and compelling, but when we step back for a second and reflect, we have to ask, to what end was that narrative used? With characters whose motives are impenetrable and a story that just moves from one violent incident to the next, it's not apparent that there is any purpose except to denigrate what Mr. Holbert perceives as the Western ethos.
But if you recall Henry Fonda's character in Fort Apache, John Wayne's in The Searchers, Glenn Ford's in The Fastest Gun Alive, the entire plot of High Noon, Jimmy Stewart's in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, etc., etc., etc. you'll have noted that the Western was always rather more nuanced than the critics give it credit for. Ethan Edwards was just as frightening in his own way as Russell Strawl, but the violence and hatred he was prone to served to instruct the viewer/reader. That's what's missing in this novel.
It wouldn't be at all surprising to see Mr. Holbert eventually put his impressive writing chops to better use, as Mr. McCarthy eventually did in The Road.
-AUTHOR SITE: BruceHolbertBooks.com
-GOOGLE BOOKS: Lonesome Animals by Bruce Holbert
-ESSAY: The Writing Process – Get To Know Your Own (Bruce Holbert, 6/30/12, Portland BookReview)
-PROFILE: Western Gothic: In Lonesome Animals, his debut novel, local schoolteacher and writer Bruce Holbert exposes the destructive power of the Western myth. (E.J. Iannelli, 5/09/12, Pacific Northwest Inlander)
-AUDIO INTERVIEW: Suspense Radio (Inside Edition, June 16th, 2012)
-REVIEW: of Lonesome Animals (Adam Woog, The Seattle Times)
-REVIEW: of Lonesome Animals (Steve Duin, The Oregonian)
-REVIEW: of Lonesome Animals (Kirkus Reviews)
-REVIEW: of Lonesome Animals (Publishers' Weekly)
-REVIEW: of Lonesome Animals (House of Crime and Mystery)
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