I am not entirely sure what to do with this novel. It’s a novel about Billy the Kid written by a novelist I really like, Ron Hansen, but who probably hasn’t written a very good book since the 1990s. The books of his I really like include westerns, so that isn’t the issue, and the writing is solid, mostly, so that’s not the issue.
The novel starts with the background and history of the Antrim family (where Billy the Kid comes from) talks about childhood, the name (William Bonney), the other name (Billy the Kid), and starts telling the history. Here’s where the issue comes in. This is a relatively slim novel, and not especially artful, but like I said, skilled. So there’s not a lot going on here. What I mean is that the story is familiar ground, told competently, but doesn’t seem to be saying much of anything. So that IS an issue. It makes it feel, a little empty.
The bigger issue for me is two-fold. One, I’ve watched Young Guns more than a dozen times (and Young Guns II!), and I will be honest if I say that I can’t think of much this novel says or does that that dumb as hell movie does just as well. That one is way more sensationalized in a way this book isn’t exactly, but also that movie works against the grain a little too. The second issue is that this book feels very much that it’s walking in the treads of what I think are two masterful novels by Mary Doria Russell, Doc and Epitaph about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp respectively. This books feels a LOT like those books, which I think are better, more original, and don’t retell 1990s movies, even though there was a danger they might. So this one is a little disappointing.