cover image A WOUNDED THING MUST HIDE: In Search of Libbie Custer

A WOUNDED THING MUST HIDE: In Search of Libbie Custer

Jeremy Poolman, . . Bloomsbury, $24.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-121-7

Few historians have written about Libbie Custer, the frontierswoman, author and lecturer who outlived her famous husband, Gen. George Armstrong Custer, by more than 50 years (she died, aged 90, in 1933). Fascinated by the smallest details of Libbie's life, British-born novelist Poolman (My Kind of America) tries to visit every city, town and outpost she experienced His own father had been obsessed with Custer, leaving behind an unfinished manuscript on the famous general, and Poolman, propelled partly by the loss of his wife to cancer, continues his father's quest. Along the way, the author meets an array of odd, disarming characters: Oskar, a former school chum turned neo-Nazi; Herr Taschenbach, an Austrian curator who insists that Libbie believed horse dung held special healing properties; and a husband and wife who live in Libbie's former home and claim to be the Custers. With such larger-than-life characters, the book reads more like a postmodern novel than a straightforward biography. Poolman's reconstructed conversations are far too crafted to be taken as fact; they read a bit like a David Mamet screenplay, with stuttered, questioning, repetitive conversations rife with misunderstanding and futile attempts at clarification. The dialogue makes for an energetic and stylized read, but it detracts from the attempts at factual reconstructions of the past. The strict historian will find this an unusual book, more memoir and personal journey than battles and dates. Still, Poolman has written an engaging narrative with beguiling subjects: General Custer, Libbie and Poolman himself. (Aug. 5)