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I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company: A Novel of Lewis and Clark

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"Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's expedition to the Pacific Ocean and back in the early nineteenth century is the most famous journey in American history. But its very fame has obscured its oddness. Its public image of discovery and triumphant return has veiled its private stories of longing and loss, of self-discovery and mutual ignorances, of good luck and mischance and fortunate misunderstanding." "Rather than concentrate exclusively on the expedition, Brian Hall has chosen to focus on emblematic moments through the whole range of the ...
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"Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's expedition to the Pacific Ocean and back in the early nineteenth century is the most famous journey in American history. But its very fame has obscured its oddness. Its public image of discovery and triumphant return has veiled its private stories of longing and loss, of self-discovery and mutual ignorances, of good luck and mischance and fortunate misunderstanding." "Rather than concentrate exclusively on the expedition, Brian Hall has chosen to focus on emblematic moments through the whole range of the lives of its participants. Ever present as a backdrop is the violent collision of white and Native American cultures, and the broader tragedy of the inability of any human being to truly understand what lies in the heart of another." Hall has written the novel in four competing voices. The primary one is that of Lewis, the troubled and mercurial figure who found that it was impossible to enter paradise without having it crumble around him. Hall brings this enigmatic character to life as no historian ever has. A second voice is that of the Shoshone girl-captive Sacagawea, interpretor on the expedition, whose short life of disruption and displacement mirrored the times in which she lived. Other perspectives are provided by William Clark and by Toussaint Charbonneau, the French fur trader who took Sacagawea as his wife.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In time for the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, novelist/journalist Brian Hall contributes a lyrical, yet historically grounded fiction about these intrepid explorers and the native cultures they encountered in their trip across the continent. In this novel (Hall's third), we hear the voices not only of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark but also those of Sacagawea, a Shoshone girl whose valor helped save the mission, and French fur trader Toussaint Charbonneau.
Douglas Brinkley
I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company -- the title is Lewis' words to Clark inviting him on the expedition -- fills in the blank pages of the Lewis and Clark journals, offering marvelous character studies of five key participants in the historical trek: Lewis, whose voice dominates the narrative; William Clark, the no-nonsense co-captain of the expedition; Sacagawea, the lovely Shoshone girl whose face now adorns the U.S. dollar coin; Toussaint Charbonneau, the French fur trader who purchased Sacagawea and made her his wife; and York, an African American slave owned by Clark.

Hall, a spellbinding prose-stylist, writes with the kind of ethereal poetic sweep found in the historical novels of Michael Ondaatje and Wallace Stegner. With consummate skill he weaves the true 1804-06 journey with a deep psychological probe of his enigmatic characters' mind-sets. To his credit, he stays as close to the historical circumstances surrounding the expedition as can be hoped for in fiction.—The Los Angeles Times

The New Yorker
"The looming mist, the shout in his breast, the wordless awe. But that is just it: wordless. A crash of white filling his ears and I! I! I! as he flew down the cliff." The grandeur of the Great Falls of the Missouri overwhelms Meriwether Lewis in Brian Hall's novel I Should Be Extremely Happy In Your Company, which deftly re-creates Lewis's journey with his partner, William Clark, across the new Western territory. Lewis is sensitive and insecure, suffering from self-recrimination as he tries, and fails, to meet President Jefferson's eccentric demands -- to find a mammoth, Welsh Indians, and, of course, the Northwest Passage.

More insidious motives emerge in Seduced by the West, Laurie Winn Carlson's examination of the political plotting that surrounded the expedition. Carlson speculates that Thomas Jefferson may have intended to provoke war with Spain or establish a separate, Republican nation in the West. Jefferson, perhaps unknowingly, colluded with spies and traitors, and he may have coldly planned to sacrifice his former secretary: "Perhaps Jefferson did not even wantLewis to arrive on the Pacific coast. What he may have wanted . . . was a martyr."

Whether Lewis and Clark ever arrived didn't really matter, argues Thomas P. Slaughter in Exploring Lewis and Clark: Reflections on Men and Wilderness, noting that the Scottish explorer Alexander Mackenzie had made the overland journey ten years earlier and that traders had already begun to penetrate the territory. Slaughter writes, "It is really quite marvelous that Lewis and Clark were able to sustain the fantasy of controlled, objective 'discovery' so long and in the face of so much evidence to the contrary."

(Andrea Thompson)
Janet Maslin
In I Should be Extremely Happy in Your Company, Mr. Hall tries to penetrate and examine Lewis and Clark lore by creating strong narrative voices for the major players in this much-examined event. In the process, he is able to fill in gaps. The brooding character of Meriwether Lewis, as evidenced by Lewis's abundant letters and journals, is constructed here with particular verve, even if Mr. Hall sometimes seems to be shoehorning actual written observations into Lewis's conversation. Readers can judge for themselves.
New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Though it joins a crowded field of Lewis and Clark narratives, this formidable third novel by Hall (The Saskiad) is not to be dismissed. Narrated in multiple distinct voices, this retelling of the story of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's legendary expedition is less a historical blow-by-blow than an engaging character study of the two men. Hall focuses on a few significant episodes in the journey-such as the hunting accident that wounds Lewis and causes him to sink into his famous depression-as seen through the eyes of Lewis, Sacagawea, Clark and Toussaint Charbonneau, Sacagawea's French fur trader husband. The result is a memorable portrait of the expedition leaders. Lewis is melancholy but ambitious and erudite, worried that he doesn't have the literary skill to render their adventures and discoveries. The sunnier Clark has the sensibility of an artist and the courage of a soldier, but he lacks the fortitude and discipline to build on his advantages. Hall is especially interested in the encounters between Native Americans and white explorers, and he details the violent struggles with Blackfeet Indians and others. Some readers may become frustrated with Sacagawea's stream-of-consciousness narration, in which proper nouns are not capitalized ("she remembered the raids in her own time, the one near beaver's head on blue crow's camp by the blackshoes when two bears' older brother (this one's bigfather), wolf tooth, was killed along with his son, chalk"), but the lyrical and precise prose will reward those who stick with it. In any case, such distractions are minor when measured against the rest of Hall's vivid, enthralling tableau. (Jan.) Forecast: Hall's book will be competing with a spate of others commemorating the 200th anniversary of the expedition, but a 12-city author tour should help this stand-out find an audience. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
At first glance, one might question the need for yet another book about intrepid American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. But as one delves into this book, one realizes that it is less about the adventure and more about the psychic forces that drove the participants to undertake the journey and eventually led to Lewis's untimely death. Hall (The Saskiad) has taken the record as he found it and filled in the gaps, imagining character traits and unrecorded incidents that would seem to provide plausible explanations for some puzzling historical questions. The story is told through four narrative voices-Lewis's, Clark's, Sacajawea's, and that of her fur-trading husband, Toussaint Charbonneau. In each case, Hall tries to capture their unique language and vision and create a real feel for the cultural collision that was occurring. Thus, spellings, grammar, and punctuation vary and names frequently change-reflecting the Native American tendency toward ad hoc descriptives. The result is a compelling if sometimes difficult-to-follow tale that can be well recommended to all fans of serious historical fiction. It is particularly suitable for public libraries, though as a word of caution, it should be pointed out that these Native Americans are not bashful about using graphic terminology to describe natural functions. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/02; the Lewis and Clark expedition celebrates its bicentennial this year.-Ed.]-David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Travel writer and novelist Hall (The Saskiad, 1997, etc.) expertly deploys his combined skills in a long look at the long travels of Lewis and Clark. Carefully offloading two centuries of cultural baggage, including the great weights of Thomas Jefferson and Sacajawea, Hall brings the young republic's great explorers and their co-travelers to unsettled life. Greatest attention goes to Jefferson's prickly young secretary Meriwether Lewis. Plagued by depression and by his self-centered, frequently widowed mother, Lewis would be no one's choice today to lead a vital national mission. The better-balanced, more cheerful William Clark, soldier brother to a revolutionary hero, would seem to have had the righter stuff. But it was Virginia-born Lewis who was at the president's elbow when Jefferson shelled out for a quarter of a continent. And Lewis was not your usual clerk. Fiercely intelligent, he had absorbed as much as possible from an abbreviated education, and he had exercised his abilities like a soldier. Clark was, indeed, Lewis's old army buddy, and it was that friendship that brought the frontier Louisvillian to his great adventure and national fame. Unraveling his narrative from varied viewpoints-those of the two young explorers, the teenaged Shoshone woman who accompanied them, her aging French Canadian husband/owner, and, ultimately, Clark's long-suffering slave, York-Hall draws on reams of historic documents and makes wonderfully real both the rackety, rash quality of the president's personal project and the unsettled inner lives of the explorers. Dragging a presidentially designed folding iron, swapping cheap trinkets with constantly changing Indian tribes, eating dogs, navigating bythe heavens, the casual directions of the natives, and their own best guesses, journalizing in their different styles, the two captains do what should have been impossible: winning national fame and national jobs. Clark's natural buoyancy supports him to the end; Lewis's personal demons drag him to an early death. Hall takes the greatest risks with Sacajawea, realizing her thoughts in dense passages that, even so, when carefully followed, make the neolithic Shoshone world palpable. Not easy, but a serious, ambitious, complex and greatly worthwhile book. Just like the trip.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641637407
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 12/30/2003
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 5.78 (w) x 8.16 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Brian Hall is the author of three novels, including I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company, his acclaimed story of the Lewis and Clark expedition, as well as three works of nonfiction.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2005


    I couldn't understand this book. I am fascinated by Lewis and Clark, but I was extremely disappointed with this confusing novel. The attempt to be creative by using different 'voices' to tell the story failed completely. I don't believe that Sacajawea and Charbonneau would tell their stories using language that they can't speak and that others can't understand. There are much better books to read about Lewis and Clark.

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