Sunday, May 29, 2005

Lots of updates today, beacuse it's a lazy overcast Sunday out here in Burnaby. While the order in which these entries are complicated because they are posted from bottom to top (like most blogs), these are even more achrononistic because I'm still playing catch up. In an effort to maintain the order in which I read these books, I sometimes sit on a writeup for some period of time until I'm caught up on past entries. The below entry on Crazy Horse is one of these, read in January, written up in February, and posted now in May.

Crazy Horse by Larry McMurtry

And there it was! Another LMM book I hadn't read! Imagine my excitement!

I started Crazy Horse a few days before New Years back in Austin, then
got distracted and it fell into a coat pocket. I finished it this
afternoon in a coffee shop in Vancouver while waiting for The
Professor to check her email.

One of the things I regret about leaving Texas was that Vic & I never
found the time to go up to Archer City and visit McMurtry in his
bookstore there. He will likely be dead before I return to the Lone
Star State, and I will have missed the chance to meet the only living
Texas man of letters whom I have studied or of whom I am aware.

Crazy Horse is a biography. It is a work of non-fiction which is so
speculative as to resemble fiction. McMurtry is upfront about this,
criticizing those scholars who have come before for inventing much of
the so-called history upon which he draws. The simple truth seems to
be that little is known about the life of Crazy Horse, a warrior of
the Ogallala & Sioux, and a symbol of the final years of the plains

Crazy Horse was not an Indian chief like Sitting Bull. He was not a
butcher like Geranamo. He really wasn't a particularly influential
figure in the so called Indian Wars. He seems to have been more
notable as a martyr, whose betrayal and death at the hands of Little
Big Man and a white general (whose name escapes me, between the Buffy,
the sounds of sirens, and the constant but pleasant interruptions from
the Professor) turned him into something of a legend and a resistance

More later… too distracting here…

One of the characteristics of the narrative in this book that casts
some doubt in my mind on it's historical accuracy is how closely it
tracks to a number of McMurtry's lifelong themes. Consider, for
example the lifelong love triangle between the stoic Crazy Horse, the
more socially adept No Water and Black Buffalo woman. The parallels
with the love triangle in Leaving Cheyenne, in The Last Picture Show,
and other LMM works can't be missed. The lifelong friendship between
Crazy Horse and his best friend has shades of the Lonesome Dove
sequence (as well as LPS and LC), and some of the tales LMM tells are
reflected elsewhere in his works, from the Gus-like personification of
Lt. Crook to Geronomo's headfirst dive out of a jailhouse window, sure
to remind any reader of the final flight of Blue Duck. Were McMurtry's
fictional events in his last 30 years of novel writing influenced by
these historical events? Certainly. Is his historical scholarship
tainted by his years of yarn spinning? Assuredly. Does he recognize
this? Without a doubt.

On balance, Crazy Horse is an engaging, short look at a man who is
more legend than a meaningful historical figure. As a work of
scholarship it is likely lacking (not saying any of the other scholars
who have approached this have done better, just that there is precious
little real data to draw from when trying to describe these events)
but LMM is acutely aware of the tension between imagination and
description of the facts. This book is fun, a must for any LMM
scholar, and a fun diversion for any Western fan or anyone with
interest in the Plains Indians. I should mention that while KM in
Houston things highly of the Penguin Lives series, I found the editing
in this book to be lacking; it was rife with mild errors, both
typographic and otherwise.

As an aside, I'd like to apologize for the poor quality of writing in
this entry. City Confidential and other murder shows have been
screaming at me from the television a few feet away, and I'm having a
hard time regaining the level of concentration I'd come to enjoy while
writing in my private study at Kingfisher Creek. This is an obvious
downside to the tiny condo downtown living we are enjoying so much in
other ways….

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