Monday, June 08, 2009

Recommended Reading for the Summer

The Berrybender Narratives, starting with Sin Killer: A Novel (Berrybender Narratives)

If you slurp up stories like a 10-year-old does an icee, you may finish these four books in a week or two. But take your time, keep them in the car, stretch them out--they're so worth it.

Larry McMurtry tells the story of the Berrybender family, a spoiled, clever, hedonistic pack of British bluebloods who dare the American west in the 1830s. Why? Because Papa wants to shoot exotic game. (Papa is the type who started naming his children Nine and Ten for convenience' sake, when all the good names were used.) The clan and their long-suffering servants meet up with Indians, trappers, and slavers. Some of them die or lose body parts or sneak off for healthy fornication; some Berrybenders you hate but they begin to grow on you. Historical figures like George Catlin, Kit Carson, Pomp Charbonneau, and Jim Bridger are part of the mix, drifting in and out of the Berrybender saga over a couple of years.

McMurtry is brilliant. He's done something I have never, ever seen or heard of before: he changes point of view five or six times in one page, hopping in and out of characters with wild abandon. In his skillful prose, it all makes sense. Reading becomes voyeuristic: the books are a quadrille, with all the dancers switching places, twirling around--yet to the observer, the changes are always graceful and entertaining.

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