Heart of the Country

Greg Matthews, Author W. W. Norton & Company $17.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-393-02289-6
If the vast buffalo herds that still roamed Kansas in the mid-19th century were in some sense the heart of the country, then the white pioneers committed some kind of spiritual suicide by wiping them out. So suggests this sprawling and doggedly fanciful tale by the Australian author of The Further Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The central figure in a cast of energized puppets, of whom most are either insane or malicious, is Joe Cobdenillegitimate, half-Indian, fated both by his birth and the buffalo-like hump on his back to be a social outcast. Joe starts his working life as a hunter of buffalo, then regrets his role in their destruction and turns to making cigar-store Indians, while rearing the ingrate son of a pious lunatic. The story includes incest, murder, whoring, drunkenness, opium taking, ghoulish burial and shovelfuls of insanity, as well as a spectral white buffalo, among other echoes of Moby-Dick. Dickens (with whom Matthews has been capriciously compared) could treat reality in a fanciful manner; Matthews treats fancy as though it were reality. His story is enjoyable by dint of its vitality, but also exasperating because of its lack of clarity and substance. BOMC alternate. (April 21)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1986
Release date: 04/01/1986
Genre: Fiction
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