Reflections in Dark Glass: The Life and Times of John Wesley Hardin

Bruce McGinnis, Author University of North Texas Press $24.95 (180p) ISBN 978-1-57441-008-2
John Wesley Hardin (1853-1895) was 15 when he killed his first man, in 1868 in Texas. By the time he was taken down by a policeman's bullet 27 years later, he had killed at least 40, perhaps many more. In his third novel (after The Fence and Sweet Cane), McGinnis presents a surprisingly soft, if not very believable, take on this notorious gunman. Hardin's story is seen through the eyes of three storytellers who are peculiarly tolerant of his bloodletting. His friend Jim Stephens offers the longest and most intriguing account, primarily of Hardin's youthful days, excusing the young killer's mean streak all the while. An anonymous voice reveals Hardin's rescue from a lynch mob; and the outlaw's African American wet nurse, Julie Ola Faye, provides dialect-heavy, often confusing reflections. Some folks, we learn, viewed Hardin as a defender of post-Civil War Southern spirit; indeed, through McGinnis's fictional prism, his crimes are seen mostly as justifiable self-defense. The generally accepted historical record doesn't bear this out, however, presenting Hardin as a cold-blooded murderer who loved his work and who blew away soldiers, gamblers, lawmen and cowboys with equal relish. Still, McGinnis's revisionist chronicle is told with vigor and atmosphere, making this a worthwhile, if offbeat, literary western. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1996
Release date: 04/01/1996
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