Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Wild Girl -- Jim Fergus

The subtitle is "The Notebooks of Ned Giles, 1932." In the prologue, set in 1999, we meet Giles, as an old man, a photographer who's selling off some of his prints because he needs the money. One of these is his last print of a photograph of the Wild Girl, captured by a hunter and thrown into a jail in Arizona because no one knew what else to do with her. How Giles came to take this picture and what happened afterward is all recorded in his notebooks.

It's a heck of a story, based as it is on The Great Apache Expedition of 1932. What? You never heard of it? Probably the last Old West clash between the Apaches and the White Eyes. The expedition was raised to rescue the son of a Mexican rancher, the son having been kidnapped by the Apaches. The expedition was mostly a publicity stunt, and most of the participants weren't cut out for the Wild West, including the flamboyantly gay Tolley Phillips, Jr.; Big Wade, the professional photographer and drunk who's more or less the seventeen-year-old Ned's mentor; and Ned himself. Others are better suited to the ordeal. Margaret Hawkins is the daughter of an explorer and has been on expeditions before. And they've led to her own dark secrets.

The Great Apache Expedition was real, but the book is of course fiction. Fergus does a great job with the landscape of the Sierra Madres, with the characters, and with the action. The first two-thirds of the book are bouyed by Ned's good spirits even in the face of the depression. It's a little like Huck and Jim when they're on the river. But things inevitably take a dark turn.

Lots of things I like are here. A good coming-of-age yarn, action and adventure, a love story of sorts, and a moving conclusion. Well worth looking for.

2 comments:

  1. This sounds excellent. Will check it out immediately!

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  2. My avid-reader mom gave me this book (along with a bag of others) when she came to visit this summer. On the cover she had stuck a post-it note with "GREAT!" written in all caps. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as she did, but I liked discovering an aspect of history I knew nothing about--the fact that we were still "hunting" Apaches as late as 1932. Boggles the mind.

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