Glorious: A Novel of the American West
GLORIOUS is exactly that. The pages grow hands and immediately pull you into the story, set in the Arizona territory of 1872. The first three pages promise much, introducing hope, love, greed, violence, revenge and, yes, a tantalizing bit of mystery, all without seeming rushed or crowded, while the remaining 400 or so pages deliver a great deal more.
Author Jeff Guinn is no stranger to the western frontier as fodder for a literary work. His nonfiction book, THE LAST GUNFIGHT, an account of the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral as seen from a unique perspective, garnered considerable critical and commercial acclaim. Guinn visits the same general environs in GLORIOUS, a work of fiction that is blessed with his sharp eye for detail and a master’s skill for showing rather than telling to deliver a story that will appeal to fiction fans of all genres, including those who mistake Zane Grey for a new Crayola color or confuse Louis L’Amour with a new position of intimacy.
"GLORIOUS is exactly that. The pages grow hands and immediately pull you into the story... one of the best books of 2014."
Cash McClendon is Guinn’s protagonist, a man we come to know in droppings and breadcrumbs throughout the book. His story opens as he is making the final difficult step of a tough journey from St. Louis to the barely-there and hardly settled town of Glorious, a place created on the rumor of a silver strike and overshadowed by the near constant threat (if not the execution) of Apache Indian attacks. If not quite on the run, McClendon is walking quickly as the result of some initially unrevealed difficulties in Missouri, where his ascension and downfall both occurred as a result of his opportunistic personality.
His purpose in traveling to Glorious is to make a last-ditch effort to reclaim the heart of his lost true love, a woman named Gabrielle who runs the only dry goods store in Glorious with her father. In what seems like a lifetime ago, McClendon initiated the 19th-century equivalent of kicking Gabrielle to the curb. At the end of a journey of hundreds of miles that has taken him months, he anticipates from her a negative reaction to his arrival and the hope of a positive one. What he receives is something in between, but is enough to cause him to eschew a ride out of town on the weekly stagecoach and attempt to adapt to life on the edge of nowhere, rebuilding the relationship he callously leveled.
Meanwhile, another aspect of McClendon’s past is slowly but inexorably coming back to haunt him. His former employer, a cold-blooded industrialist named Rupert Douglass, is seeking revenge for the incident that occasioned McClendon’s departure and has assigned the doppelganger of the devil himself to track down his former protegé. It is a confrontation that McClendon, all things considered, is ill-prepared to deal with. But deal with it he must, if his new life has any hope at all of taking root.
Guinn is a magnificent storyteller who should be remembered and highly regarded for GLORIOUS. The reader is never entirely sure what is going to happen page by page, thanks to the range of possibilities of Guinn’s combination of characters --- interesting, quirky and memorable --- and situations both primary and secondary. Guinn’s subtle reminders of the difficulties of travel in the foregone era in which the book is set make for fascinating reading all by themselves, describing a journey of 30 miles that, depending on terrain, might well take several hours, while a similar journey in our time might take...30 minutes. One wonders upon finishing the novel how the nation ever expanded west of the Mississippi River; the answer, as summed up in GLORIOUS, is “with great difficulty.” Include the elements introduced at the beginning with the promise of a sequel at the end, and you have what looks to be one of the best books of 2014.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 23, 2014