Saturday, February 27, 2010

Far Bright Star by Robert Olmstead

Far Bright Star, by Robert Olmstead (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007).

In writing there is talent, which can seem like some magical thing, and there is skill, which is honed, and there is a point at which all that becomes power. Olmstead's writing in Far Bright Star shows power. The language is a beautiful, brutal poetry that is hard in its beauty. It is what Hemingway wanted and might have had if he had not let his ego and celebrity boss around his talent and skill.

Far Bright Star caught my eye because I saw a tiny horse and rider on its cover, the two figures nearly lost in a wide, dark landscape dwarfed by a broad field of sky and stars, the whole serving as a backdrop for the typography proclaiming the title and author's name. Honestly, I don't think I'd heard of Olmstead before picking up this book, but now I'm looking for more by him.

The tale takes place in the late West -- during the United States' war against Pancho Villa. This period intrigues me, thanks in part to the Fargo series by John Benteen. Napoleon Childs and his brother, Xenophon, are in charge of a band of US Cavalry located below the border, searching for Villa. Napoleon is aged (think of Sam Elliott's character, Sgt. Major Basil Plumley, in Were Were Soldiers) compared to his band of young soldiers, who have enlisted to go south for adventure. He has been honed by terrible, bone cracking experiences, and his flintiness is all that may save the cocky, proud young fools under his command.

During a patrol in the heat, white light, and sand, the band is surrounded by what Napoleon thinks is a stray gang of Villistas. Napoleon's world has made him wily, stoic, and both determined and pessimistic. His dry, business-like manner in dealing with their enemies marks him as heroic in Olmstead's narrative, no matter that he is probably someone who no one would want to have join him for a friendly drink or conversation.

"You are not being shot at personally," he told the man. He could not remember when he stopped hating those who were trying to kill him. After all, he was trying to kill them too. He'd abandoned hatred somewhere on the plains of Montana or the jungles of the Philippines. He wasn't sure, but no matter, it wasn't good to hate. It always seemed to get in the way of doing the job, always seemed to take more than it ever gave back, always seemed to get the hater killed sooner than he otherwise might have been killed.

The prose is poetically masculine and stark and vigorous in a way that recalls Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry and Icelandic sagas. There are scenes here of battle and torture and as horrific as anything in Tom Eidson's The Last Ride (whose title was changed to The Missing after the release of the film by that name, based on Eidson's novel).

Olmstead's novel ultimately is about war, that it is always present, and the men who participate -- what makes some of them warriors and others not -- and what war does to them. It's not a novel for everyone, but it will resound strongly for those who read it.

35 comments:

小美 said...

very popular to u!..............................

仲亨仲亨 said...

I love readding, and thanks for your artical. ........................................

童紫勳 said...

認識自己,是發現妳的真性格、掌握妳的命運、創照你前程的根源。 ..................................................

Duane Spurlock said...

All four of these comments come across in a Japanese or Chinese font, and I can't read them. Any help?

睿玄 said...

nice job! waiting for your new artical. ........................................

TammySteffes2217 said...

願你心情如秋高氣爽!笑臉如鮮花常開! ....................................................

雅伯 said...

第一次睇你blog,鐘意!........................................

麗威麗威 said...

辛苦了!祝你愈來愈好!.............................................

祐誠 said...

真正的朋友不會把友誼掛在嘴巴上..................................................

林雅婷 said...

好文章給人的感覺就是很好,謝謝您~~..............................

冠宛君中 said...

your wife is very charming!............................................................

王周宏儒 said...

財富並非永遠的朋友,但朋友卻是永遠的財富。 ............................................................

雅信 said...

自然是上帝的藝術。 ............................................................

溫淑芬 said...

世間是非,要如水泥地般水過則乾。................................................................

蔣筱芸 said...

人不能像動物一樣活著,而應該追求知識和美德.................................................................                           

柏強 said...

人不能像動物一樣活著,而應該追求知識和美德....................................................................

DonA_Binett彥安 said...

成熟,就是有能力適應生活中的模糊。.................................................................

王名仁 said...

It takes all kinds to make a world.............................................................

天花天花 said...

初次造訪,安安^^..................................................................

賢林賢林 said...

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MinBar林 said...

人生中最重要的是要自尊、自愛、自立、自強、自信。..................................................

雲亨雲亨雲亨 said...

Of two evils choose the least.............................................................

婷珊 said...

沒有經過反省的人生,是不值得活的人生..................................................

佳穎DennyR_Guao0506 said...

不錯唷~我會常常來 >"<............................................................

王美妹 said...

喜歡看大家的文章,每篇都是一個故事,都是一種心情~~祝大家開心愉快...............................................................

吳婷婷 said...

Pay somebody back in his own coin.............................................................

趙喜柯凡豐妤 said...

一個人的際遇在第一次總是最深刻的,有時候甚至會讓人的心變成永遠的絕緣。............................................................

嘉王偉 said...

人們不缺少力量,他們缺少意志。..................................................

建依萍彰 said...

獨居時,要反省自己的過錯;在社會大眾之間,則要忘卻別人的過失。..................................................

家唐銘 said...

Lets cross the bridge when we come to it............................................................

凱v胡倫 said...

Pay somebody back in his own coin.............................................................

冰微 said...

期待你每一篇文章............................................................

孫邦柔 said...

你不能決定生命的長度,但你可以控制它的寬度..................................................................

文滢 said...

喜歡自己的另一層意義是「接納自己」。..................................................

阿袁袁袁袁華 said...

今夜星光多美好~祝你快樂~~~~............................................................