cover image Turpentine


Spring Warren, . . Black Cat, $14 (420pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-7036-1

This highly episodic picaresque manages to outlast a generic, disorganized plot to emerge as an entertaining romp through the American 1870s. For the most part, Warren's debut follows the youthful adventures of Edward Turrentine Bayard III, who has left his upper-class Connecticut family and headed to frontier Nebraska for his health. In short order, he becomes a buffalo skinner, learns to ride and shoot, and is smitten by the beautiful and poetic Lill Martine. She has other ideas, and Ned, crestfallen but undaunted in his devotion, takes a job offer from a paleontologist back East. There, he meets Phaegin, an attractive, streetwise dance hall girl, and more or less adopts a juvenile delinquent named Curly. Curly's mischief soon has the trio accused of anarchy, theft and murder, and they flee across the continent for their lives. A series of improbable coincidences and misadventures follow, involving wealthy entrepreneurs, Mormons, Indians and a variety of rustic frontier types. There's no shortage of sudden death and grim gore, all of which remains comically on the surface. Characters come and go, often violently. But astonishingly, the sweetness of the story keeps it afloat. (Sept.)