cover image American by Blood

American by Blood

Andrew Huebner. Simon & Schuster, $23 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-684-85770-1

One of the biggest mistakes an aspiring writer can make is to become grossly enamored of a well-established literary figure. Huebner's first novel shows a clear admiration of the sometimes quirky but highly recognizable style of Cormac McCarthy and thereby undermines what could have been a marvelous, horrific tale of vengeance and pathos in the aftermath of the Little Bighorn Massacre. At the opening, James Bradley--documented as the first officer to discover the ravages of Custer's Seventh Cavalry--rides onto the bloody battlefield accompanied by two privates, William Gentle and August Huebner, the author's great-great- grandfather. The men report the result of Custer's strategic blunder, then continue to try to track down the hostile Sioux and Cheyenne and ultimately the Nez Perce, as the Indians fight a running, retreating series of battles across the mountains and prairies of Montana and South Dakota, trying to escape to Canada. The soldiers form a triumvirate point of view, with Bradley as the voice of duty, Huebner the voice of reason and Gentle (the soldier credited ultimately with the murder of Crazy Horse) the voice of mystical frontier pragmatism. Punctuated with beautiful descriptive passages of wilderness flora and fauna, the novel graphically details the skirmishes that followed the military disaster on the Greasy Grass, revealing with rare candor the inner thoughts of American troopers involved in a deadly struggle with a desperate foe. Unfortunately, Huebner's decision to eschew conventional punctuation, his verbal anachronisms and a few outright historical errors (the Comanche were not at Little Bighorn) render the story difficult to follow. Huebner clearly has McCarthy's rhythms down, but unlike the older writer, Huebner doesn't quite get the melody right. And that's a pity, for he certainly has an original and potentially inspiring lyric in mind. Agent, Simon Green. Foreign rights sold in U.K. and Germany. (Mar.)