News Of The World, by Paulette Jiles
At least as far back as The Canterbury Tales, there’s been the literary trope of characters on a seemingly nondescript journey, but a series of unexpected events change the journeyers forever. This is Jiles’ story in News Of The World, and it’s unexpectedly disarming, charming in the telling. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is an itinerant news-bringer to the isolated settlements of east and central Texas, these towns still beset by attacks from Kiowas and Comanches. Lawlessness is rampant.
While in Wichita Falls, Kidd is commissioned to return a girl to her former home after being captured and reared by Kiowas. An Indian agent has bought her back from the tribe, and the girl, who barely speaks English now, is more Kiowa than her original German/American. Her name is Johanna Leonberger, the Captain to return her to an aunt and uncle near Castroville. Along this long and dangerous journey, Kidd makes money reading newspaper articles about exotic places to the citizens of towns they pass through, and Johanna becomes his helper. Finally at their destination following a handful of harrowing experiences, both Kidd and Johanna find themselves disappointed and virtually helpless without one another.
Jiles’ prose essentially makes this story unique. Her attention to detail, her dialogue between Kidd and Johanna and other incidental characters is pithy, simple, and effective. If there are faults they are within this story type’s nature: The relationship between the two is transformed simply by their being on this journey, and there are few interior passages for the characters that explain this, particularly where Johanna is concerned. The trip is merely a trip, its purpose to depict this era of Texas history. The ending is a bit maudlin, rushed in the telling, and hardly in the same tone as the rest of the story. Still it’s a worthy read, particularly if you happen to enjoy Texas to the degree that a Texan might.
My rating: 17 of 20 stars
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