My book club chose the topic of Cowboy Fantasy for our August Book selection. To my surprise, a pretty good field of candidates was put forth. We voted and the winner was Territory by Emma Bull. I got the book loaded on my phone and started right in.
Ms. Bull is a skilled and gifted writer. She has a unique ability with crafting a story, especially useful when taking a familiar historical setting like Tombstone, Arizona Territory, and making it totally alien in many ways. Under the history that we all know, a magical life force slithers, waiting to be tapped by those in the know.
The weave of the tale includes Chinese culture in the barbarian lands, by which I mean San Francisco and Tombstone. We get to know a healer named Chow Lung and his servant, Chu. All of the readers in the club built up expectations on Chu, which were never satisfied. That would have been our first clue if the author handed any out. As one member said, She doesn’t give anything away. What we learned, we had to work for.
I’ve always loved the stories about Tombstone and the Earps. Reading this, I learned more about periphery personalities in their orbits. I learned about wives, which were rarely mentioned in history. Every character except for a handful are actually real people. That’s one of the major positive points for the book. And it certainly needed a few on the plus side.
In some ways, the book is a lot like life. You might have expectations of how things are going to go, of which turns will lead where, and who will be your friend. I’m certainly not a person who reads to be reminded of the pain of life and the uncertainty of it all. I really wanted an escape, a magic and fierce gunfights story. I didn’t get that in Territory, but I do plan to give Emma Bull another chance in The War for the Oaks.
Spoiler Alert: The Gunfight at the OK Corral didn’t come up in this book. The ending didn’t make anyone happy. What the actual fark were you trying to do there, Emma? Because it certainly feels like a set up for a sequel. Well, it’s been 11 years, Ms. Bull, and nothing has come from it. I don’t think there ever will be a complete story here. My best chance for something satisfying might be fan fiction. We shall see.
The other books nominated for August were: Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen and Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher. I don’t know if I will read those now, because westerns aren’t my favorite go-to genre. I did just finish David Gerrold’s novelette, The Martian Child which details some of what he and his son went through in the adoption process. While he didn’t answer all of the questions raised in the story, he did give a very satisfying ending. I am of the opinion, perhaps because of my age, that the ending justifies very little ambiguity in the story.
Back to writing, and back to trying to find life less horrifying. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday.