1873. Under a full moon, two Assiniboine Indians rustle twenty horses from a group of sleeping white men, wolf hunters taking in their pelts to trade. This sets the scene for two parallel narratives. One is the haunting story of a young drifter known as 'the Englishman's boy' who joins the wolf hunters en route north to Canada on the trail of the ...
1873. Under a full moon, two Assiniboine Indians rustle twenty horses from a group of sleeping white men, wolf hunters taking in their pelts to trade. This sets the scene for two parallel narratives. One is the haunting story of a young drifter known as 'the Englishman's boy' who joins the wolf hunters en route north to Canada on the trail of the horse thieves. Vanderhaeghe's rendering of the stark, dramatic beauty of the landscape becomes a perfect backdrop for vivid scenes of action, adventure and violence. The other story is set in 1920s Hollywood, where Harry Vincent, a struggling young hack writer in a movie studio, is plucked from obscurity by the enigmatic studio head, Damon Ira Chance. Vincent is enlisted to find the elusive old-time Western actor, Shorty McAdoo. Chance believes McAdoo will be able to provide him with the authentic material he needs to fulfil his ambition to make the big film about the American West. But Chance has a darker ambition and the story Vincent painfully extracts brings the two narratives together in a brutal climax.
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Publishers Weekly, 1997-06-16 Having won the Governor General's Award in Canada, this novel comes garlanded with praise, and it's easy to see what the fuss is about. Vanderhaeghe (Man Descending) has a strong narrative sense and a muscular, urgent style. The novel's premise is a good one: a renegade Canadian cowboy, involved in an 1873 Indian massacre as a teenager, 50 years later becomes Shorty McAdoo, a grizzled bit player in pioneer Hollywood, where he catches the imagination of a movie mogul who wants to build an inspiring Western around himæa movie that will deliberately ignore McAdoo's dark secret, which has filled his life with dour guilt. The book proceeds along two tracks. One tells the story of how Shorty became involved with a posse chasing some Indian horse thieves up into Canadian territory, and the grim vengeance that was enacted. The other chronicles the later doings in Hollywood, as told by young screenwriter Harry Vincent. In both stories there is a crisis of conscience; both are driven by ruthless central figures; and there are ironies aplenty. But the tale of the old West is infinitely more gripping and real than the '20s Hollywood material, which is overfamiliar (and in any case sounds echoes of Nathanael West's much more powerful Day of the Locust). The posse leader Hardwick is a figure of genuine menace, but Damon Ira Chance, who runs Harry's studio and sends him off to get Shorty's story, is more elusive, an improbable recluse who goes off into erudite, quasi-Fascist rants about the iron American spirit and the power of the movies. The final confrontation at the premiere of McAdoo's film seems inevitable only in a fictional way; it's nothing like the fierce terror of the massacre and its aftermath. Then, too, the novel is framed by two chapters of facile Indian mysticism that seem foreign to the rest of the tale. Vanderhaeghe is a fine writer, and his work is often fresh and surprising; but on this occasion, all the elements do not quite cohere as they should have. (Sept.)
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