Mexico by James A. Michener

James A. Michener’s Mexico opens with these words:

I had been sent to Mexico to cover a murder, one of a remarkable kind. And since it had not yet happened, I had been ordered to get photographs, too.

Clearly, this isn’t the standard Michener formula.

The journalist is Norman Clay. Born and reared in Toledo, Mexico, he left for the US in 1938 after the Mexicans confiscated oil wells his family owned. Clay served in the American armed World War II, and worked as a journalist ever since.

Clay, 52, is back in his hometown to cover a bullfight that’s rumored to be a confrontation the equivalent of murder.

an Indian stone figure lighted by the sunHe revisits places he knew as a childhood, tracing his roots to Mexico’s three primary population groups: Indians, Spaniards, and English. Readers get to see how differently pivotal historical personages and events were viewed by each of the three groups.

Some of the historical facts are grisly: men’s beating hearts ripped out of them to appease a stone god, nuns burned alive, women made to work in a silver mine, never seeing daylight.

With the brutality, there’s also art, music, public service, bullfighting, and an ending with just the right degree of happy ending for a 52-year-old journalist.

Mexico by James A. Michener
Random House. ©1992. 625 p.
1992 bestseller #8; my grade: A

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Jubal Sackett moves predictably

Jubal and Keokotah view an Indian camp across the river
Inspired by the Romantic artists

Jubal Sackett is Louis L’Amour’s 1985 offering in what it’s the dust jacket informs me is a series of 17 books about the Sacketts.

Jubal includes TV-guide sized summary of those volumes: Fugitive Barnabas Sackett immigrated from England to America, settling without official sanction in the Tennessee River Valley, where he raised three sons and a daughter.

In Jubal Sackett, anticipating his own death, Barnabas sends Jubal west to find a place where common people like the Sacketts can own land.

Jubal would probably have gone without his father’s commission:  He has the wanderlust.

Jubal is scarcely out of the yard when he falls in with a Kickapoo named Keokotah, who has west a smattering of English and a wanderlust equal to his own.

Together they meet an old Natchee Indian who asks Jubal to find the daughter of the Sun, their tribe’s ruling order, who has gone to find a less dangerous place for her people to live.

Jubal can’t refuse a request made in his father’s name.

The rest of the novel is predictable.

There are wild animals, wild Indians, wild Spanish, wild blizzards.

The intrepid hero and his equally intrepid sidekick end up happily in a place with lots to explore, at least until L’Amour’s next Sackett novel.

Jubal Sackett by Louis L’Amour
Bantam Books, ©1985. 375 p.
1985 bestseller #10; my grade: B-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

To Have and to Hold Ends in Exhaustion

To Have and to Hold is a gender-neutral novel. Mary Johnson provides heart-stopping adventure for men, and a heart-throb hero for women.

In 1621 when a shipload of women arrive at Jamestown , Capt. Ralph Percy, one of original settlers, buys a beautiful wife he can see is high born. He allows her to bar the bedroom door to him.

Lord Carnal arrives seeking the King’s run-away ward whom he was to marry. If Lord Carnal can get her back to England, the King will annul her marriage to Percy.

Ralph and his buddies have to get her away.

Before long, the Ralph finds himself captain of a pirate ship carrying his wife and his buddies and Lord Carnal.

Johnson gets everyone back to Jamestown in time for Ralph to learn his wife loves him and for him to be a hero when the Indians attack Jamestown.

When she runs out of space for any more plot complications, Johnson packs up her pen and sets the characters free.

Since 1900, when To Have and to Hold was the bestseller in the US, its plot lines have become familiar from dime novels and second-rate films. A taut ending might have camouflaged the interior flaws, but the novel’s slump to an exhausted ending magnifies them.

The history beneath the novel deserves better.

So do the novel’s readers.

To Have and to Hold
by Mary Johnson
1900 bestseller # 1
Project Gutenberg EBook #2807
My grade: C

@2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Forest and the Fort more history than story

The Forest and the Fort is a historical novel about America’s prerevolutionary western frontier.

Salathiel Albine was raised as the son of a childless Indian chief who had murdered Sal’s family. An itinerant preacher befriends the young Sal, help him relearn English, teaches him to read and write, and brings him to the attention of Fort Pitt’s acting commander, Captain Ecuyer.

Ecuyer’s orderly trains Sal as his replacement. When Ecuyer is assigned to visit all the frontier forts, Sal accompanies him in a dual role of orderly and scout. Sal can scalp an enemy and powder a wig with equal efficiency.

Hervey Allen’s publishers brought out The Forest and the Fort  as the first of a trilogy intended to be read as a set. Much of the novel reads as a set-up to events that will happen in future books.

Allen slips all sorts of interesting period details into the novel, such as Ecuyer’s giving Indians handkerchiefs and blankets from the smallpox hospital. However, the plot is totally forgettable and none of the characters is memorable.

You will find the novel a palatable way to learn about the political conflicts of the 1700s, but you will find little entertainment in its pages.

The Forest and the Fort
By Hervey Allen
Farrar & Rinhart, 1943
344 pages
1943 bestseller # 9
My grade: C+
 

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Historical fact renders Alice of Old Vincennes implausible

Maurice Thompson got the idea for Alice of Old Vincennes from a scrap of a letter by Gaspard Roussillon dated 1788. The letter aroused Thompson’s curiosity. His research stirred his imagination to plug gaps in the historical record.

Roussillon, a wealthy and influential French trader, has adopted the lovely orphaned Protestant child, Alice Tarleton, and is bringing her up as his daughter.

When the colonies declare war on the Crown, the French at Vincennes side with the colonies against the British and their Indian allies.

Colonel George Rogers Clark sends the rough Lt. Helm and the suave Lieutenant Fitzhugh Beverley to take charge of the miliary post at Vincennes.

The British under Hamilton take the fort, but they don’t get the American flag: Alice takes it down and has it hidden. Hamilton determines to break “the frogs” of Vincennes.

Beverley escapes and heads for Clark’s encampment, surviving torture by Indians and torture by the elements of nature. Clark, though outnumbered, outsmarts Hamilton and retakes Vincennes.

Alice and Beverley marry and go to live with their kin in Virginia.

The facts Thompson unearthed were sufficiently romantic that little embroidery was necessary to create a plot. Unfortunately, the historical facts appear totally implausible when presented in novel form.

Literature demands plausibility that life does not produce.

Alice of Old Vincennes
by Maurice Thompson
1901 Bestseller #2
Project Gutenberg e-book #4097
My grade B-
©2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Project Gutenberg