By Thomas Cobb
Within the LITERARY culture OF CORMAC MCCARTHY'S AND LARRY MCMURTRY'S ancient WESTERNS, SHAVETAIL lines THE BRUTAL COMING-OF-AGE OF A BOY SOLDIER STATIONED AT A distant U.S. military OUTPOST AND a tender WOMAN'S TERRIFYING PASSAGE around the AMERICAN FRONTIER.
Set in 1871 within the unforgiving desert of the Arizona Territory, Shavetail is the tale of personal Ned Thorne, a seventeen-year-old boy from Connecticut who has lied approximately his age to hitch the military. at the run from a shameful previous, Ned is eager to turn out his worthy -- to his superiors, to his relations, and so much of all, to himself. younger and stricken, Ned is as eco-friendly and obdurate as a "shavetail," the soldiers' time period for a deadly, untrained mule.
To suffer during this international, Ned mustn't ever simply stick to the orders of the camp's captain, Robert Franklin,but additionally undergo the tough manipulations of Obediah Brickner, the camp's mule motive force. either Franklin and Brickner were broken via their lengthy army carrier, either think of themselves in a position to continue to exist the risks of the desolate tract -- floods, scorpions, snakes, and Indians -- and either imperil Ned.
Yet there are different characters, all richly drawn, who additionally confront Ned: half-wit squaddies, embattled Indians hidden in cliffs, a devious and philosophical peddler, and the fleshy whores who materialize within the wilderness once the paymaster has left camp and dance with drunken squaddies round a fireplace past due into the night.
After a band of Apaches assault a close-by ranch, killing males and kidnapping a tender lady, Ned's lieutenant -- a guy looking atonement for his personal blunders -- leads Ned and the remainder of his patrol on a near-suicidal challenge via rugged mountains and into Mexico in hopes of saving the woman's existence. it truly is not likely any can live to tell the tale this folly, and people who do can be replaced forever.
Meticulously researched and vividly advised, Shavetail renders a time whilst the us used to be nonetheless an increasing empire, its western part bloody with the deaths of squaddies, settlers, and Indians. In language either spare and very good, Cobb brings readers this misplaced American panorama, untouched by way of highways or electrical energy and with no the comforts of civilization.
Shavetail additionally marks the go back of a very good American literary voice. Cobb's first and in simple terms different novel, Crazy Heart, used to be released in 1987 to nice acclaim and used to be edited by way of the mythical editor Ted Solotaroff. Cobb can also be a former scholar of Donald Barthelme, who defined Crazy Heart as "a sour, witty mental profile of genius."
Brutal and deft, laced with either violence and hope, Shavetail plunges into the private human urges at the same time it marks the floor the place males both continue to exist or perish.