In his seventh novel, Olmstead (Coal Black Horse) delivers another richly characterized, tightly woven story of nature, inevitability and the human condition. In 1916, the aging Napoleon Childs assembles a cavalry to search for the elusive bandit Pancho Villa in Mexico. The ragtag group includes Napoleon's brother, Xenophon, and "America's eager export of losers, deadbeats, cutthroats, dilettantes, and murderers." Riding on horseback for months at a time, Napoleon finds himself and his men always just a few hours behind Villa, whose posse navigates the unforgiving terrain with ease. When a band of marauders descend upon the group, many of Napoleon's men are brutally slaughtered and Napoleon himself is left beaten and emotionally broken. After the attack, Napoleon proclaims to his brother that the person he was died out there. But this revelation doesn't last long, and soon Napoleon sets out on yet another date with destiny on the open plains with his followers. Reminiscent of Kent Haruf, Olmstead's brilliantly expressive, condensed tale of resilience and dusty determination flows with the kind of literary cadence few writers have mastered. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Olmstead's seventh novel (after the award-winning Coal Black Horse) employs a sparse, poetic style that is appropriate for the book's bleak setting and subject matter. Set in the Mexican desert in 1916, the novel follows Napoleon Childs, a veteran soldier in the American Expeditionary Force sent to capture Pancho Villa. The futility of this mission is compounded by unendurable conditions and the pointless violence of the war. The novel revolves around an expedition to collect livestock, the grisly battle that ensues, and Childs's improbable struggle for survival. His attempts to make sense of this experience and of his life spent in the army are portrayed powerfully and subtly, and his conclusion that he has died and been reborn presages the death of the 19th-century world with the arrival of World War I. Recommended for public and academic libraries.
A veteran soldier battles for survival in another meditative, beautifully written novel from Olmstead (Coal Black Horse, 2007, etc.). The story begins in the summer of 1916, a few months after Pancho Villa's attack on Columbus, N.M. Officer Napoleon Childs has led a U.S. Army expedition deep into the Mexican desert in pursuit of this chimerical figure. The sun is punishing, the landscape is daunting and chasing the spookily elusive Villistas is beginning to show on Napoleon's men. Olmstead is wondrously attuned to the natural world and the realities of war; he uses sand, heat and distant mountains as a stage set, and his narrative unfolds with all the formal rigor of a Greek tragedy. The sense of pageantry is enhanced by the fact that while cavalrymen with rifles and bayonets pursue a bandoliered revolutionary in the Americas, a new kind of warfare is being invented in Europe. The futility of this particular mission, Napoleon is aware, mirrors the more general futility of a soldier's life, but he is sanguine about his vocation until his company loses a savage fight that never should have happened. Pulled from among the dead, he watches a fellow survivor tortured and killed by a band of rebels whose bloodthirsty female leader spares Napoleon so he can "tell the others what happened here." Now he must stay alive until his brother and their comrades can find him. The journey he takes recalls that of Coal Black Horse's protagonist, with the vital difference that Robey was young, while Napoleon is old. When Robey came home from the battlefields of the Civil War, he rejoined the deep, mysterious stream of life; he had hope and a future. For Napoleon, the return to life is a return to the pastand, finally, a return to war. The spectacle Olmstead presents is not a pretty one, and its consolations are only for the strong and clear-minded. But the beauty and power of his prose will keep most readers from looking away. Brutal, tender and magnificent.
The Dallas Morning News
"Tautly written and laced with tension . . . Riveting visual effects . . . Olmstead offers a sort of 'thinking-reader's' western . . . Verbal precision and historical accuracy combine with a poetic distillation of a tragic event presented in a solidly captivating reading experience that haunts the mind long after the final page is turned.” —The Dallas Morning News
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Gleaming, spellbinding fiction . . . Terrifying and abruptly beautiful, the new novel gleams with a masculine intensity; it is hard to read and hard to put down . . . i did succumb, yet again, to the strong spell of Olmstead’s storytelling."—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
From the Publisher
"Tautly written and laced with tension . . . Riveting visual effects . . . Olmstead offers a sort of 'thinking-reader's' western . . . Verbal precision and historical accuracy combine with a poetic distillation of a tragic event presented in a solidly captivating reading experience that haunts the mind long after the final page is turned.” The Dallas Morning News
"Gleaming, spellbinding fiction . . . Terrifying and abruptly beautiful, the new novel gleams with a masculine intensity; it is hard to read and hard to put down . . . i did succumb, yet again, to the strong spell of Olmstead’s storytelling."The Cleveland Plain Dealer