The Emotion In What Isn’t Said
I’m reading The Big Sky by A.B. Guthrie, Jr. right now and it’s picking up pace and elevating my esteem as it closes out. I’m remembering how much I tend to love westerns generally, a truly American genre. My favorite TV show of all time: Deadwood. My favorite movies from the past decade: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and There Will Be Blood. One of my favorite books: Blood Meridian. It’s possible that I just like westerns. But why?
I like the poetic language mixed with vulgarity. It’s Shakespearean to me in that way, but more accessible. My friends are probably tired of hearing me refer to Deadwood as American Shakespeare, but that’s the best description that I can think of. There’s also something enticing about the hard-living self-sufficiency of the men and women of that time, and it’s dramatic to read about situations that can’t easily turn to modern medicine or technology to ease the plight of the characters. There are points when it’s romantic, but also many times when it is unflinchingly de-romanticized. Lastly, there’s a deeper bond I sense between the men in these books that makes me long for that kind of friendship in my own life. I don’t want the characters in this book to go away: Summers, Boone, and Jim. But I suppose they have to.
Here’s an example of the friendship that exists between two of the characters, the bond that’s gut-wrenching to read about because one character loves to talk and the other does not.
It can’t possibly be setup properly (you’d just have to read it), but suffice to say that Boone and Jim have been through a heap together, gone west as friends met on the road. Now Jim has been wounded and is lying in the deep snow with a small group of others that he and Boone had agreed to lead to Oregon. They’re starving. In a hallucinatory daze Jim asks if Boone can’t get him some liver to eat and then he babbles on endlessly about other things. Boone, unable to look at his friend this way, decides to brave the enormous drifts and cold wind to go looking for an animal to shoot and bring back. He finds it and brings it back and includes Beauchamp, a man whose act of cowardice Boone blames for Jim’s injury.
Jim’s face was still and sunk in like a dead man’s. Boone bent over and then he saw the eyes open and living yet. He pulled out the liver and cut a slice and held over Jim’s mouth. He saw the mouth work and heard the meat crushing and felt the lips moving against his fingers. He cut another slice and fed it in and then another while Jim’s gaze never left his face.
Jim’s voice said, “Obliged. Wouldn’t no one do so much.”
Jim’s hand came up as if to touch Boone’s arm. Boone backed away and turned from the shelter and saw Beauchamp crouched, sharp-eyed, while Peabody cut on the meat. “You’ll git your share, Beauchamp,” he said as if to a friend, and wondered at himself afterward. It made a man unnatural to see Jim crying.
Boone is not a tender man in this story, so the tenderness of this scene (and the refusal of tenderness) caught me off guard and felt deeply emotional.