cover image THE DIEZMO


Rick Bass, . . Houghton Mifflin, $22 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-395-92617-8

In 1842, a militia arrives in LaGrange, a town in the newly formed Republic of Texas. Its purpose is to cross into Mexico and hunt down a band of Mexican nationals who recently attacked San Antonio. Sixteen-year-old James Alexander, overcome by a mix of patriotism, vengeance and a thirst for glory, joins the ranks. What follows is a compact, cleanly written adventure and a statement against rushing headlong into the destruction of war. Like Henry Fleming, the young Union soldier in The Red Badge of Courage , Alexander is an unwilling participant in fighting more ferocious than he had imagined, but most of all he is a witness. Captured by the Mexican army, the militia manage to escape, but the harsh landscape is a pitiless foe, and the men end up back in captivity, at the dreaded Castle of Perve. Bass (Where the Sea Used to Be , etc.) writes about the natural world in vivid, effortless prose; moments of beauty are almost as frequent as instances of violence, degradation and death. The presentation of 19th-century Texas and Mexico is trustworthy, and Alexander's narrative voice never slips. Throughout, meanwhile, there is an insistent harmonic tone that reminds the reader of the current war in Iraq. As the author writes in his acknowledgments, "Decapitations, inhumane treatment of prisoners, questionable documents... all that exists now existed then." Agent, Bob Dattila. Author tour. (May 4)