Monday, February 20, 2017

Desperadoes by Ron Hansen

I bought The Kid as soon as it came out but, for some reason, I didn't wasn't to dive right into it. I heard Ron Hansen refer to Desperadoes, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and The Kid as the "Outlaw trilogy" and I wanted to go back and re-read the first two before reading The Kid.

Desperadoes is a different type of revisionist western where the author does a ton of primary source research then distills it all into "novel" form. What makes it a novel? Probably that the author has to create some things in order to fill in the established gaps. This research also takes into account previous fictional versions of the story. This does two things. First, it allows the author to try and dig through the myth to the man (which, post-1970's is the trend in exploring the west -- we understand the myth but we want to know what actually happened). Second, it allows the author to interact with  and interrogate the previous fictional versions

Hansen stumbles a bit with this mode of fiction (faction?) but the technique will get refined over time (and by authors).

Desperadoes is a little dry at times. Emmett Dalton is the obvious narrator because he lived the longest, but it isn't always a captivating voice. There are a lot of small, intimate scenes peppered throughout the book. These moments are the meat of the book, and where it really shines the most. Like the afternoon spent practicing jumping off of a roof onto their horses. Really, what Desperadoes wants to convey, is that the life of a famous outlaw was more down time and hiding out than committing acts of robbery. That most of the things said in the press weren't true, and they weren't super humans. With that in mind Desperadoes is mostly a success, what is on full display here isn't a myth, but a man.

It seemed to me that Desperadoes had disjointed framing devices. It opens with with old man Emmett Dalton hiding out in his library, from his own party, and being confronted with an eager young man who won't leave him alone. This is never returned to. The ending, however, is a real kick in the teeth.


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