Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Hour of Lead -- Bruce Holbert

The Hour of Lead is a novel of the west, but it's not a western.  Its setting is the early 20th century, though that hardly matters.  There's an occasional mention of world events, but they don't mean anything to the story.  It's the people and the countryside (eastern Washington) that matter here.

It's a dark story of tough times and tough people. It opens with a snow storm that makes the Polar Vortex look like a day in Cabo.  Twin brothers Matt and Luke Lawson are caught in the storm.  Their father leaves the house to look for them.  Only Matt survives, and he develops a dark outlook on life.  For a while he lives on the family farm with his mother, a schoolteacher, and her son.  He engages in an odd courtship of a local girl who rejects him with a pistol shot.  After that he commences to wander and eventually falls in with the Jarmes family.  Years pass, and Matt is involved in many things, some of them quite unsavory.  There's some startling violence.  Eventually, after marrying and fathering a child, Matt turns back home, where his past catches up with him.  

This might not sound like much in summary, but the book is beautifully written with several surprising turns of plot, and the moving conclusion allows at least a little bit of light to shine in.  Not much, but some.  The Hour of Lead isn't always cheerful reading, but it's a powerful addition to the literature of the west.

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