Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: The Drop Edge of Yonder

The Drop Edge of Yonder tells the story of Zebulon Shook, a mountain man and fur trapper who gets cursed by a dying half Shoshoni, half Irish woman. The curse makes it impossible for Zebulon to know whether or not he is trapped in the spirit world, the real world, or somewhere in between.

After selling his most recent collection of furs, Zebulon sets out from his home, setting off an epic journey that has him meeting up with his half brother, losing a fortune at cards, getting shot, (multiple times), tangled up with a dangerous women, becoming a well renown and much wanted criminal, caught up in the gold rush, among a myriad of other adventures.

As Zebulon careens his way through the American West there is an interesting juxtaposition between Zebulon's free wheeling, devil may care attitude and approach to life, while all around him, the west gets steadily more organized and tamed.  It was interesting to me how the idea of freedom on the frontier is vastly different from the notion of freedom in a civilized society.  This seems to be a recurring theme in many westerns, but it is played out to the extreme with Zebulon in this novel.

The Drop Edge of Yonder is a virtual whirlwind of a tale. Once Zebulon sets off on his journey, the pacing of the narrative is rapid fire.  One thing literally happens directly after another, and the story never once lets up.  The story reflects Zebulon's lifestyle which is chaotic at the best of times, and just plain crazy at all others.  I found myself easily swept up in the story, and enjoyed every moment of this wild ride.  Because of Zebulon's free wheeling style, there is no way to know which direction the novel will take you...aside from knowing that where ever the story goes it will likely lead to more trouble for Zebulon.  That said, it was a joy to be swept up in the story and visit a variety of locations on the western frontier.

Rudolph Wurlitzer's prose reminded me a bit of Cormac McCarthy's in the sense that Wurlitzer is somewhat sparse with his descriptions, but at the same time, manages to paint a vivid picture of the wild west.  Though Zebulon's adventures take him all over the west, down to Mexico, and further into Central America, Wurlitzer makes each setting come boiling to life.  Despite the sparse style, Wurlitzer was still able to capture a very authentic feel for the settings, people, and sometimes violent and dangerous culture of the western frontier.

The Drop Edge of Yonder is a book that can be read in a couple of different ways.  It can be read simply as a western adventure of outlaws, cards, and whiskey, but there is a supernatural element to the story as well.  The curse that gets put on Zebulon gives this book a bit of a fantastical swirl.  There are a few clues and circumstances that give credit to the idea that Zebulon might either be dreaming up his wild adventures, or be stuck in the spirit world.  However, the free spirit in me wants to believe that someone could possibly live the free, unshackled life that Zebulon led.  Either way, The Drop Edge of Yonder had a small dose of the fantastic to it, which adds yet another engaging element to the story that reminded me a bit of Guy Gavriel Kay's works that are very light on the fantasy elements.

No matter which way to shake it, The Drop Edge of Yonder is a definite departure from my usual reading habits.  Though I consider myself a moderate fan of the western genre, mostly through comics and film,  this novel was well worth the foray into the written variety of the genre.  Definitely worth a read for western fans and lapsed western fans alike.

Grade: B

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