Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 16 -- Little Big Man

by Thomas Berger

Started: March 13
Finished: March 27

Notes: Until I saw this beat-up paperback in a used book store, I had no idea the 1970 movie of the same title was based upon a novel. The movie stars Dustin Hoffman in a sort of comic Western about a young man captured and raised by the Cheyenne. Hoffman's character also becomes a gunslinger, and eventually even a scout for Custer. The movie has a few decent chuckles in it, but for the most part I felt it falls flat. However, I've read online that the novel is much, much better, and I've even seen the author compared to Mark Twain. That last bit is what really interested me.

Mini review: This read was an unusual one for me. To tell the truth, I did not care much for it until about the last 75 pages or so, and that's out of 447 pages. So that was a lot of reading that didn't do much for me. Why didn't I like those parts? "Plodding," is the first word that comes to mind. "Meandering" is the second. The story moves quite slow. It's not so much that the events themselves are slow or have a long time between them, but it's more the way the story itself is told. This tale doesn't have a traditional plot line. Oh, there's a beginning and an end, but the middle section jumps around all over the place with little evidence of any furthering plot. To some extent this approach makes sense because the story is told as recollections of an old man remembering his days in the Old West, and the manner in which the tale is told is at least as important as the story itself in this instance. There are some colloquialisms, and that "meandering" I mentioned works sort of as an old fashioned story-teller's way of unreeling the tale. Most of it just didn't work that well for me. I thought the writer's approach would have worked fine for a short story, but in a novel it just drug things out too long. Now, all that being said, the climax of the book made up for a lot. I always try not to give too much away, and I won't here, but SPOILER alert: the novel's climax leads up to and concludes with Little Bighorn.  I did catch a few historical inaccuracies, but those might have been intentional (keep in mind the teller of the tale is more than a hundred years of age, and there is some question not only of his memory, but of his sanity and his truthfulness). This was an interesting romp through Old West history with a few famous names and figures thrown in, and a nice look at Indian life, though I'm no expert on Native Americans, so I can't say how accurate is the portrayal of the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, etc. I will say the book is indeed better than the movie. The film is completely comedy, farce, and while those elements are in the novel, they do not overpower the novel. This isn't a story of only comedy. There is a serious side here, and that really comes through in the story's ending. Would I suggest others read this? For casual readers, no. For those with a love of Old West and Native American history, yes.

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Never read the book. I remember liking the movie, but not enough that I have been dying to see it again.