Friday, January 09, 2009

"The Drop Edge of Yonder"

This was an unusual book to find at the local library, especially in the recently acquired "new fiction" section. With cover accolades by Sam Shepherd, Patti Smith, Michael Herr, Alan Arkin, and John Ashbery I had to take a look. It turns out that Rudolph Wurlitzer, the author, is a veteran novelist and Hollywood screenwriter, a writer on a cutting edge that was unfamiliar here.

This is a western set around the time of the California gold rush and it rambles through Panama, Central America, the southwest and western U.S. The writing is uninhibited and the story is harsh. One review commented that it makes "Deadwood" look like Disneyland. There are ample doses of mysticism, unlikely surreal occurances, and exaggerated descriptions of possible reality. It is set within a historical context that gives a lingering notion of truth. It's more than that. What is depicted feels like a better picture of the reality of the "wild west" than any historical retelling despite the fact that the story is almost cartoonish in some of its descriptions of events.

There's one recurring theme for the characters. It's a constant allusion. Zebulon, the main character, was "born in some in between place, between the worlds". That's reiterated often as in this shamanistic analysis at a campfire, "Look at this one who is caught between worlds. He suffers because he thinks there's a way to shake loose, that there's someone here with the power to free him. He believes a woman can help but that woman is as lost as he is...Look at the woman! She has come from the other side of the world only to find out she never had to go anywhere". Everyone it seems has been afflicted with this condition of displacement and uncertain identity. The result:

"Zebulon was awake when he slept , and sleeping when he was awake", but he carried on, as his Ma said "I didn't raise you for false sentiments son, you do what's in front of you and I'll do the same".


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