(Touchstone)Well, if I didn't learn anything else from Come Again No More it's that
The most bother to the reader here is Velma who evidently up and died after the old man Eli kicked her out of 8T8 ranch, his spread of 100,00 acres ... and she and her ghost pop up again and again in Come Again No More like apples at an old-fashioned Apple Dunk. If I was interested enough I'd go back and find Sun Going Down which is number #1 in the trilogy but I didn't and probably won't.
- Stallions can get mean. If one bares his teeth and screams you and starts running your way, you are better off climbing up a tree to get out of his way else he'll eat you alive;
- The best way to survive if you are lost in a snowstorm in Nebraska and you have a wreck and break your leg and get thrown is to set fire to your Cadillac 1925 V-8 Custom to keep you warm and alert the neighbors;
- That the worst place to start reading a trilogy --- in this case about a family named "Paint" --- the absolute worst place to start in on it is in Volume II. First, the conclusion will be half-hearted, because there are still another 350 pages to go in the next and last volume. Second, there are endless names and events you are expected to remember, people like Eli and Velma and Emaline and Ezra and Bobby and Bucky and Jake. They just turn up; no introduction at all.
Which is not to pan the present volume too much: if you're into blazing cars rather than blazing saddles, the Cadillac-burning scene is fairly impressive: Eli thrown out on the snow with several broken ribs, his femur sticking out of his pants, and, when he sets the whole mess on fire it stinks of "burning oil and grease and body paint." The undercarriage and tires are the last to go. He gets saved by a guy named "Two Spuds."
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And then there is boxing. Jake is a boxer, and woos Emaline with a pair of tickets to the first night's fight, but she won't be bought. "I'm not going to watch a bunch of sweaty men punching each other bloody," which are my sentiments exactly. I'm not so sure who in their right mind --- outside of Jake and Joe Louis and Max Schmeling and Max Baer and Joyce Carol Oates --- would want to spend an evening at a punchout like this, although once again Todd knows how to sketch the blood and sweat and black eyes and broken noses and bleeding into the eyes so that you want to toss the book away but just can't pry yourself away from all the gory details.
This all takes place in the Middle West in the middle of the Depression, and it's all here: bank loans going sour (Eli has four of them); FDR (his soothing voice on the radio); straw boaters (a fedora: Jake wears one); "catty-wumpus" (it means all askew); moonshine; "grifters;" whore-houses ... and an easy racism: "In his pocket, he had the address, scrawled in pencil by a colored sparring partner in Denver."
A place in jigtown where a man could get nickel beer and fifty-cent women.Still, when it's not low, the dialogue can be a treat, like this between old Eli and "Two Spuds," the guy who saved Eli's life at the burning car spectacular. They are talking about a Crow Indian: "I had to pay Joe a visit a while back. He rode home trailing a lariat behind him. Turned out a gelding of mine was attached to that rope."
Two Spuds: "Joe don't mean nothin by it. He knows you'll come for the horse. He's Crow. Best horse stealers on the plains. Joe is old enough to remember when the most fun a Crow could have was runnin off fifty head of Sioux horses."
Eli: "He's lucky I'm a kindly sort of fellow."
Joe likes you. That's why he stole your horse. He figures you both need to stay in practice --- he needs the practice stealing your horse and you need practice getting it back.
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Every now and again, Come Again No More bogs down in the lecture mode. This is Eli after he has rustled some horses and with his pals, driven them to Wyoming to keep them from a man named Bill Bury, who says he's not the kind of man to forget them stealing the horses. Eli tells him, "I hope you remember this every day for the rest of your sorry life, because you are one hundred percent pure weasel shit. One half a you is mean and the other half is greedy and I don't know which is worse. Only thing you see in this world is what you can grab and throw a brand on. It's sonsofbitches like you that never get enough, you're the ones put this country in the mess it is in."
Unfortunately, the name Paint, as in Eli Paint, brings up strange memories for us old cowpokes. It figured in a song I used to plunk out on the ukulele back in my salad days. It went,
When I die, take my saddle from the wall,
Place it on my old pony, lead him out of his stall,
Tie my bones to my saddle and turn our faces to the West:
And we'll ride the prairie we love the best.
I ride an old paint, I lead an old Dan,
I'm goin' to Montana to throw the hoolihan,
They feed in the coulees, they water in the draw,
Their tails are all matted, and their backs are all raw.
Ride around little dogies
Ride around 'em slow;
The fiery and snuffy are raring to go.--- A. Iriye