Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dark Thicket by Elmer Kelton (Civil War-era Western novel)

Owen Danforth is home from the American Civil War on temporary leave until his arm, deeply wounded by a Yankee saber cut earned in battle, heals well enough for his return. But Owen is not returning to a peaceful Texas: the people of his hometown are as divided here as on the battlefield. Even at home — Owen's father Andrew is a staunch Unionist though his son fights for the Confederacy.

But blood is thicker than politics, and to keep Andrew out of danger, Owen puts himself in the middle of a different kind of conflict but just as dangerous — and helping two women prisoners escape to the Dark Thicket from Phineas Shattuck and other local heel flies is just the beginning.

Elmer Kelton is one of the greats. His books have substance; they're as meaty and satisfying as a well-grilled T-bone. Buffalo Wagons was the first Western I read that made me realize the genre could offer depth along with a fast-paced read and historical authenticity. It's hardly a wonder that he has won 6 Spur Awards and was voted best Western writer of all times by his peers at the Western Writers of America.

In Dark Thicket, Kelton shows the other side of the Civil War — how it affected those back home, turning old friends into enemies (though those enemies are nonetheless eager to be friends again after the war is over). And in Phineas Shattuck, Kelton offers a villain that is both frightening in his realism and fun to hate in his over-the-top actions.

Kelton combines history with a no-nonsense writing style that expresses genuine human emotion without resorting to overt sentimentality, creating characters that are believable in their conflicted, sometimes inconsistent natures, with real feelings that linger in the reader's mind long after the book has been put back on the shelf. I feel I learned more about the actual effects of the War Between the States on individuals from Dark Thicket than from any history book.


David Cranmer said...

Elmer Kelton is such a fine writer. I haven't read Dark Thicket but will remember it the next time I'm looking for a Kelton novel. Thanks.

Matthew Pizzolato said...

I saw this one when I was browsing at the book store the other day. I'm going to have to go back and pick up a copy.

Craig Clarke said...

It's absolutely worth your time, as are most Kelton novels.

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