Thomson's rangy metafictional collage blends figures from history and legend as well as characters from Hollywood films in an endlessly inventive cinematic meditation on the American West. Two characters dominate the novel's foreground: a Georgia O'Keeffe-like figure, photographer Susan Garth, shrewd, cantankerous, reclusive, and still self-reliant at 80, and her longtime friend Bark Blaylock, a western writer/filmmaker who may be Wyatt Earp's son. A subplot involves James Averill, a wealthy Easterner who sees his philandering as a frontiersman's quest for knowledge. As the time frame shuttles between 1950 and the late 1800s, we meet Susan's father, a gentlemanly cattle rancher who reads Thomas Hardy, and serves as a springboard to the Old West of Bat Masterson, Geronimo and Billy the Kid. The cast includes Willa Cather, Montgomery Clift, Charles Ives, Judge Roy Bean and numerous characters smuggled in from such movies as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Thomson's ( Suspects ) artfully juxtaposes the brimming frontier of legend against a construct of the West as a constricted wilderness of the soul. (Mar.)
Readers who delighted in Thomson's Suspects (LJ 5/15/85), a dark look at the betrayal of the American dream populated by characters from classic film noir movies, will thoroughly enjoy his new novel. The dark side of the American dream is still his subject, but this time he examines it through the lens of America's unique contribution to film art: the Western. Ever wonder what happened to characters from such classic films as The Searchers , Red River , or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance ? Thomson tells us, having ``reel'' Western heroes like Matt Garth and Ethan Edwards mix with ``real'' Western legends like Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid. The result is a fascinating, ingenuous novel, an even more probing and astute look at the mythic image of the West, and its meaning for all of us, than Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove ( LJ 7/1/85).-- Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, Mass.
David Thomson, author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, is a regular contributor to The Guardian, The New York Times, Film Comment, Movieline, The New Republic, and Salon. He lives in San Francisco.