There are books you read because of their plot and there are others you read for their tone and style. Far Bright Star by Robert Olmsted is the latter. Like All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac Macarthy, it is a story of beauty and violence and horses and Mexico. And like All the Pretty Horses (and Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry), it is a novel that proves that the Western, when handled by great writers, still has great promise and great possibilities.
I had started Far Bright Star awhile back. But for a variety of reasons, the timing was not right. This week I started it again. The experience this time was magical.
For those who need a plot review in their book reviews, I am inserting here the plot summary from Amazon.com.
The year is 1916. The enemy, Pancho Villa, is elusive. Terrain is unforgiving. Through the mountains and across the long dry stretches of Mexico, Napoleon Childs, an aging cavalryman, leads an expedition of inexperienced horse soldiers on seemingly fruitless searches. Though he is seasoned at such missions, things go terribly wrong, and his patrol is suddenly at the mercy of an enemy intent on their destruction. After witnessing the demise of his troops, Napoleon is left by his captors to die in the desert.
Through him we enter the conflicted mind of a warrior as he tries to survive against all odds, as he seeks to make sense of a lifetime of senseless wars and to reckon with the reasons a man would choose a life on the battlefield. Olmstead, an award-winning writer, has created a tightly wound novel that is as moving as it is terrifying. (cf. Amazon.com)
But it is not the plot that matters in Far Bright Star. It is the tone created by some of the most admirable prose I have come across … since All the Pretty Horses and Blood Meridian. Prose that shimmers and shines like a far, bright star:
Thus far the summer of 1916 had been a siege of wrathy wind and heated air. Dust and light. Sand and light. Wind and light.
* * * * *
The night was desolate, piercingly cold and made thin and transparent and he could see the stars and the stars behind the stars.
* * * * *
It was an immense dark night on earth and he felt have been washed up on a high shore of the world. Whatever dim veil fallen across the heavens was lifted and again there were infinite stars spangling the blue night. The stars were faint and flickered gently as if alive.
* * * * *
On nights like this he would stop the horse and lay back and look at the stars…. It is so like humans to think there is more out there than there is here. They are greedy for the water to be more and for the land to be more and even greedy of the sky to be more.