In Lonesome Animals, we find Russell Strawl, a former sheriff who is the best at hunting down and catching criminals, from the late 1890s to the early 1900s. If they didn’t resist, he’d bring them back to be judged; if they did resist, he’d just kill them: "He killed eleven men in flight because the circumstances made returning them alive too much trouble." He usually just shot them but when he felt it'd be a good sentence, he used a slow and painful death. His reputation grew and became almost legendary, but he also had made many enemies.

Now retired, probably in his early 60s (it's the 1930s), Strawl is hired back by the law to find a vicious serial killer of Native Americans who dismembers the bodies in various fashions. As Strawl goes on the hunt, he is still very much tormented by his past, especially by the blood of innocents that he shed and by the death of his two former wives. He is joined on the road by his adopted son, a Native American originally named Elaskolatat who now calls himself Elijah. 

These two men, who are family in everything except blood, are very different at first glance but much the same in their core. Blood and violence will link them for the rest of their lives. As their journey progresses and as they go down the list of suspects from the crime report, we discover a region and its people, a way of life, and in all of this, a humanity that always keeps an open door for dialogue and understanding, even amidst violence: in every disagreement, be it as non-physical as in discussing different beliefs, or as painful as in choosing between guilt and innocence, or retribution and forgiveness, there is always the possibility of sitting down, talking, and considering every point of view.

Talking is indeed important, but only when necessary, as Strawl explains why he is a man of few words: “Words turn just noise after a while. I suppose if a house was burning, ‘fire’ might be handy, but not nearly as much as a bucket of water.” By his side, Elijah enjoys talking and even looks for matters of disagreement with Strawl, just to keep the conversation going and to prove his points. When he was a boy, Elijah declared himself a prophet and now he even preaches Catholicism in his own unusual way.

Lonesome Animals is a very satisfying book on many levels. Although the murders committed are gruesome, they don’t take over the story, they are just one more part of the big picture which comprises a look at the arrival of white men on Native Americans’s territory, through the lens of Strawl’s journey; his quest for justice unconsciously –for him- hides his search for personal redemption and peace of mind.

Lonesome Animals is Bruce Holbert’s first published novel. It can be considered as a literary Western Noir that readers of Cormac McCarthy, Daniel Woodrell and James Sallis would definitely enjoy for its beautiful prose and dialogue, its complex characters and captivating plot, but also for its impeccable depiction of a time and place that seems far removed from our here and now, but we definitely can see some of its remnants. This is a book that is destined to become an important piece of American Literature.

Lonesome Animals will be published on May 15, from Counterpoint Press. Bruce Holbert is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop.
You can visit Bruce Holbert's website, his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter @bruceholbert1

April 2012

1 comment:

  1. Lonesome Animals sounds great, Jacques. Exactly my kind of book. I look forward to its release.