Top critical review
Fun story of the Wild West, but a bit superficial
27 June 2010
This book has been sitting on my shelf for months now - I ordered it knowing I needed to review it for Amazon Vine, then when it arrived I went off the idea. In the past I've been disappointed by picaresque novels, finding them disjointed and not very compelling, and I worried this would be the same. I'm pleased to say it was better than I expected, but for me this was only an average novel.
Wilbur McCrum is something of a weakling: funny-looking, squinty and prone to frequent fits. His mother never takes to him, as when she gives birth to him on the pioneer trail of the old West, his younger sister falls from the cart they are travelling in and is killed. His father dies in a freak accident involving a cow and a gun, and Wilbur becomes convinced the family is cursed. Eventually Wilbur's mother tires of him and leaves him with some neighbours whilst she heads back East. This is the start of Wilbur's life as, variously, a drifter, outlaw, circus freak, librarian, saloon worker and religious showman.
The story is told in brief segments, each significant element or encounter of Wilbur's life a different chapter. Some feel a bit forced, such as when he briefly encounters Billy the Kid and his gang, and after a while it does start to drag. The story is very episodic, the only real thread that runs through the novel is the death of Wilbur's love Ida May, who is turned into a mummy and sold to a circus as a sideshow freak, before ending up in the hands of a religious conman and then a film studio. Wilbur trails her in the hope of giving her a decent burial and atoning for her death.
There is a lot of fun in this story, and Wilbur is an engaging character who it is easy to sympathise with despite some of the more colourful things he gets up to. However, I found much of the story superficial, it skates the surface of the period and characters, throwing in as many varied elements as possible for a short time, then moving on without letting the plot really develop.
It's not bad and is entertaining, but for me it will never be a classic or a must-read.