Terrific teen threesome in the wild western thread

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After the Civil War, American society quickly spread westward, within familiar boundaries found in film and literary westerns. Legal and illegal opportunities have brought all levels of society together under new, often difficult, circumstances in the hope of advancement.

In the late 1870s, three formidably talented children converge on Deadwood, SD in this gripping, episodic tale from the Winnipeg park writer, actor and naturalist (and Winnipeg Free Press critic) Bob Armstrong.

The wonders at the heart of this story make their roundabouts to the law-challenged setting of the latter half of the novel in a series of vignettes that also function as shorter narratives, engaging the reader with vivid description, historical detail and American culture and folklore.

Daniel McCormack, a New York street boy with hyper-acute visual and spatial awareness, is recruited into the thieving gang led by Big Jim McGuire and the enigmatic Ms. Kleinschmidt. They train him to be a prodigious, muscular sniper for their nefarious plans to carry out a union scam against Western miners.

Lincoln Henry, son of slaves freed in Tennessee during the Reconstruction era, has an innate understanding of geometry and physics, “discovering the connections and the great-little ones”, before a former teacher gave him Say, “You mean angles and ratios, Lincoln.”

His father’s tragic experience in the development of technology placed Lincoln under the tutelage of the friendly mechanic McTaggart, who continued his education by repairing and inventing transportation and mining technologies, including realizing that such innovations can also be used with violence.

Lillian Mandeville, whose father was killed in action with Custer during the Civil War, struggles to find her profession with her uncle Stanislas’ traveling circus, until her ability to communicate with dogs makes her the star of the show.

Lily’s dog-savant talent is a bit of a stretch compared to Daniel and Lincoln’s more plausible abilities, but the circus offers both interesting minor characters and plenty of storytelling possibilities that Armstrong exploits to drive the action and the suspense of the novel.

Minor characters, some more developed than others, support the three main prodigies, whose exploits both complicate and resolve a series of tragicomic situations leading up to the expected but surprisingly complicated shootout and ending.

While Hearst (the mine owner), Boone May (his performer), Sheriff Bullock of Deadwood, and members of Lincoln’s family and Big Jim’s gang provide interesting flashes of character complications, the focus is put on the three wonders.

However, “wolf” Josiah Stuart, whose “religious” commitment to killing wolves conflicts with Lily’s inclinations, and Segal, a quick sidekick of Daniel’s “Bulldog Kid” shooter character, give spooky flourishes. and sentimental to the plot.

Another potential prodigy, Vera Bly, daughter of a printer and journalist, defies her father’s hope that she will have a more traditional career for a woman and begins to recount Daniel’s adventures. , Lincoln and Lily in a ten cent novel. His continued career could be Armstrong’s path to sequel Wonders.

Considering the difficult times in which the book is set, there may be less racism towards Africans or Native Americans than you might expect, although what is there is enough. surprising. An Indigenous group’s connection with Lily about a wounded wolf and their leader, Dreams of Horses, shows disparate cultures interacting appropriately.

In general, the main characters are unexpectedly, even heroically, inclusive despite the tremendous cultural background with which they had to be brought up.

The “Wild West” would certainly have benefited from younger idealists like the prodigious main characters in Armstrong’s entertaining novel.

Bill Rambo teaches at Laureate Academy in St. Norbert.

Bob Armstrong will discuss Prodigies with Sue Sorensen as part of Thin Air 2021: The Winnipeg International Writers Festival on Friday, October 1 at 7 p.m. at McNally Robinson Booksellers’ Grant Park. The event will also be broadcast live on YouTube. For more information, visit thinairwinnipeg.ca.


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