The Kid, by Ron Hansen
Over the years Ron Hansen has been perhaps my favorite contemporary writer, and as far as I know, I’ve been a loyal reader, having read every published piece he’s written. Even met him years ago in Atlanta, had the opportunity to chat briefly with him that evening. The thing about being so familiar with another writer’s work: the other’s writing – both the good and the not-so-good – becomes glaringly obvious.
Hansen’s work has been largely historical fiction, from other legendary western heroes to Hitler to somewhat contemporary religious personalities. Most fiction these days virtually requires saturating the writing with historical data from the book’s era, and Hansen seems to have the best historical resources of any contemporary writer. The danger in using such amassed research material, though, is in overusing it, and Hansen seems increasingly liable in this regard. Another danger, and this is merely the other side of the coin in using research material to that extent, is in allowing the characterization and storyline to suffer because of it. This too seems to be an indulgence that Hansen owns, although reviews indicate he gets away with it.
In the case of The Kid, the author seems compelled to use every bit of minutiae at his command, particularly the brands of clothing, including and especially hats. The operative rule here is generally “Does this information help depict the story’s landscape? Does it help set the story’s mood and aid in allowing the characters to come alive?” In this novel, for perhaps its first half, the narrative flow bogs down from an excess of such detail, as if the reader must assay these story characteristics through a microscope instead of enjoying them in panorama.
But invariably, as in this novel, Hansen’s work planes out and the writing gains its necessary use of the author’s “camera” in negotiating close-ups and panoramas, in exposing Billy the Kid’s true character, and in pacing the story. And, as in other of his works, Hansen’s insight into the import of his subject’s place in history always seems unique, provocative and, more than likely, ultimately accurate. As I continually state, no piece of writing, especially fiction, is perfect, and while sticking with Hansen’s books sometimes takes patience, that patience is always rewarded.
My rating: 17 of 20 stars
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