Regular price: $13.68
Buy Now with 1 Credit
Buy Now for $13.68
I saw the movie long before I read the book, and unlike many, I found the film version to be hypnotically compelling. The music, the cinematography, the performances . . . I think it was art. That said, it has a flaw at it's core, which is that it maintains too much distance between the characters and the viewer. Particularly in the middle bits, where some of the events felt disjointed and made the narrative feel like it was pieced together with a lot left on the cutting room floor.
Upon listening to this book, I see that the film was likely not edited in parts into vague incoherence at all. Narratively, I have the same complaint about the book, which is that the scenes involving Wood Hite, Dick Liddil, the Fords and the nature of Wood's conflict with Liddil just ring . . . incomplete, if not hollow.
In some ways, the narrative intent and what Hansen's trying to do with Jesse himself make this problem difficult. Scenes not involving Jesse lack gravitas. Like everyone else in the book, Jesse is not a completely drawn character; rather, we get glimpses into who he is and what he *might* intend with his actions. And this is problematic because we simply don't get enough scenes with which to frame whatever it is we're to think of him, or Robert Ford, or anyone else.
There's a bigger story to be told about Ed Miller, his fate and Jesse's choices about him, for instance. Normally, I tend to believe that most books, even really good ones, would benefit from an aggressive editor. Very few books merit epic treatment. However, this is a rare case where I think a good third of a book was left either in Hansen's head or somewhere at the mercy of an overly aggressive editor.
All that said, I prefer a quiet narrative style, especially with subjects like old West celebrities (that's what we're talking about when we discuss Jesse James), and Ron Hansen delivers that. In fact, I think he's a brilliant writer. He is drawn to unusual details that really place the reader in a scene, and he hits on certain minor actions that convey a lot more than entire paragraphs from lesser authors might.
But it's too short. The topic, and his writing talent, deserve more. As it is, it's a loosely connected series of vignettes about Ford and James -- which still gives us a beautiful book in many ways, and I recommend it. But when I think of lovely prose in the service of a human, historical tale, I can't help but think Hansen has better in him -- I think this could've been a book equal to authors like Mary Doria Russell or Marilynne Robinson.
In the end, I enjoyed it very much -- I think I just wish there were more of it to enjoy. If it were developed to the level it could've been, I wager I'd have it at 4.5 stars. As it is, it sits at 3.5 for me, so round up.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful