No Resting Place, by William Humphrey*****

norestingplace I was drawn to this story because I had read William Humphrey’s Home from the Hill, brilliant Southern fiction that was a contender for the National Book Award, and I couldn’t imagine letting anything written by this author pass me by. Thanks go to Net Galley and Open Road Media for the DRC, which I received free in exchange for this honest review. The book will be re-released digitally February 17, 2017.

Humphrey tells this story like no one else. The Trail of Tears is one of the most heinous crimes any government has wrought upon its aboriginal peoples, a shameless land grab that stole all of the lands belonging to Cherokees and several other tribes of the Southeastern USA. It’s a story that has to be told by someone; those that have American Indian roots may have access to oral history, but for Anglos like me, if it isn’t written down, future generations may not know about it. And by telling it as if it were historical fiction, Humphrey is able to add dialogue and make it more accessible. That said, the reader will need to bring strong literacy skills to this novel. Humphrey’s fiction is always hyper-literate, all the more so in this case because he meticulously researched it. It is the last thing he wrote, a genuine labor of love, and it shows.

That said, nobody can make this real-life event a happy one, and nobody should. It’s brutal. I was about a quarter of the way in, reading in tiny bites in order to make the reading more bearable, when I began to regret having committed to reading and reviewing it. In the end, however, I am glad I did read it, because I learned a lot of new things about the various tribes and although Humphrey’s narrative isn’t enjoyable to read because of the subject matter, he does it more eloquently and in more conscientious detail than anyone else that I’ve read. I say this having taught a unit on the Trail of Tears for a number of years; I am not an expert on this part of American history, but I also didn’t come to it without prior knowledge.

It’s a story that will break your heart—and if you already know the basics, it will do so all over again—but it’s also a story everyone should know. Like the Holocaust, it’s a part of history whose recounting must not be permitted to pass from our knowledge. As for me, I read more than one book at a time, and I found this was less likely to leave me feeling depressed if I alternated it with lighter material. It is likely to be of special interest to those of Cherokee descent and also to Texans, whose forefather Sam Houston is featured here.

The writing style may seem peculiar to younger readers because it is written in a formal style not often used anymore, but there is no denying the word-smithery that makes this cruel event come alive on the page.  Highly recommended to those with the literary skills and stamina required to pursue it.

Far As the Eye Can See: A Novel, by Robert Bausch ****

farastheeyeSharply evocative of time and place, Bausch’s novel Far As the Eye Can See is a treat and in some ways an education as well. Bausch’s fictional tale, set during the Grant Administration in the USA around the time of Custer’s last stand, draws on considerable research with regard to the Crow, Cheyenne, Nez Perce and other American Indian tribes. He uses story to drive home his message, which is that neither Caucasian nor indigenous people were either entirely good or entirely in the right, and that the conflict between the two was inevitable.

I only agree with part of that last bit, but I really enjoyed his story. Thank you to Net Galley and Bloomsbury Publishing for allowing me an advance glimpse via an ARC.

Bobby Hale is a deserter from the US army some seven times over. During the latter part of the American Civil War, he took the cash bounty for signing on, went to fight, and left the first chance he got. By using a wide variety of names he was able to do so repeatedly, but he was nevertheless roped into participating in some terrible battle. Were he real, and were he alive today, we’d say he has PTSD.

And there you have it! I always know an author has done a strong job developing their character when I find myself giving out diagnoses. It’s just as well that the character is indeed fictional, since my medical credentials don’t exist either.

Hale is headed west, away from cities and civilization. The idea of holding down a job and answering to a supervisor is anathema to him. The classic (but not stereotypical) mountain man, he is willing to sleep in freezing temperatures out of doors when necessary, climb steep cliffs and slog through ravines, all in the name of independence. But even out west, he inevitably runs into other humans from time to time, and not being completely antisocial, he makes friends, makes enemies, and falls in love. Twice. He finds himself having to make difficult choices a number of times. At other times, he is forced into action before he can really examine his options.

Here we check in with what I call the “ick meter”. Every reader has an independent threshold for bloodshed, human body parts, and other gore. Given that this is a soldier’s story, renegade or not, we would expect to find some of it here. I would not have cared to see Bausch add any more of it than he did; however, my own sense is that there was nothing added that was gratuitous or overdrawn. If you can’t stand reading war stories, you probably already know that by now, in which case, I wonder why you are still with me here.

Another noteworthy detail has to do with his use of place. When he describes the approach to the Rocky Mountains from the eastern part of the USA, I can see those blue mountains and all that sky, because I have driven across the USA a few times, and I have vacationed in Montana and Wyoming. Bobby Hale covers a tremendous amount of ground. If you are somewhat familiar with location in regard to the Black Hills, the Northern (inside the US) Rockies, and the Great Plains, you will probably enjoy the book more than if you don’t have a clue. I think if I were starting from scratch, I might have become confused, because he puts on a lot of miles without pausing to lay out which state lines he is crossing. Actually having been to at least one of these places, even if only to drive through it and notice the difference in elevation, climate, etc. will increase your appreciation and understanding.

As for me, I found it very satisfying. It’s a great read to have ready to hand beside a snug bedside. When Hale froze in the mountains and froze again on the plains, I burrowed deeper into the blankets and found myself even more content than when I began.

A great story for late fall and winter reading in a toasty nest.