I was a little disappointed by this book. It was way too episodic for my taste, bouncing around from very vivid mini-plots with almost no segue between them. Charlie and Eli encounter 'the crying man' twice, randomly, in Oregon and again in California, without every discovering why he's sobbing uncontrollably. They may or may not have been cursed by an old woman who may or may not have been a witch. Then Eli's horse gets attacked by a bear. I think the intention was to have these be smaller pictures of a bigger, magical West with a capital W during the Gold Rush, but it ended up just making the whole book seem disjointed.
It's an entertaining read but don't expect to be blown away by an epic gunslinging tale. I also don't think I buy Patrick DeWitt's assumption that everyone out west in that 1800s talked like a polite robot that doesn't understand contractions:
'What are you doing?' he asked me.Which isn't to say that it's without its high points. It reminded me of The Yiddish Policeman's Union in that they're both reasonably captivating and good, easy reads, but lacking real substance, or connective meaning.
'You are giving me this?' said the boy.
'What do you think you are doing?' Charlie asked.
My very center was beginning to expand, as it always did before violence, a toppled pot of black ink covering the frame of my mind, its contents ceaseless, unaccountably limitless. My flesh and scalp started to ring and tingle and I became someone other than myself, or I became my second self, and this person was highly pleased to be stepping from the murk and into the living world where he might do just as he wished. I felt at once both lust and disgrace and wondered, Why do I relish this reversal to animal? I began exhaling hotly through my nostrils, whereas Charlie was quiet and calm, and he made a gesture that I should also be quiet. He was used to corralling me like this, winding me up and corralling me into battle. Shame, I thought. Shame and blood and degradation.