Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The Texicans by Nina Vida
Joseph Kimmel is a simple man, a man as content as a fur trapper as he is as a school teacher, a man who has never longed for the encumbrances of a wife and family. He is pleased to be without any obligation except to himself, that is, until a letter arrives in June of 1845 from Joseph's brother's business partner in Texas announcing his brother's death and extolling the virtues of Texas. Soon he sheds his humdrum life as a schoolteacher and sets out for Texas to settle his brother's estate and perhaps find some free land and adventure along the way. Suffice it to say that Joseph gets far more than he bargained for.
Robbed of his horse by an escaped slave, Joseph is discovered by one Henry Castro, a Frenchman determined to create a town of his own in Texas using sheer force of will and a pack of ignorant Alsatian settlers who he has convinced to come along for the ride. That's when things begin to get out of hand. Without intending to, Joseph stays a few years in Castroville and leaves with a wife he never intended to have and doesn't love as well as the very escaped slave that stole his belongings and landed him Castroville to begin with. As he travels across Texas in search of land and a relatively safe place to settle, Joseph finds himself "encumbered" with more and more people including another ex-slave with only one leg and his family as well as the intoxicating Aurelia, who is rumored to be a Mexican witch. After making a fragile peace with the local indian tribe, Joseph and his adopted family settle down to a life of ranching, but life on the frontier is fraught with dangers and tragedy will ultimately shape the lives of those that Joseph has learned to hold dear.
The Texicans is a well-written novel populated by a wide variety of quite three dimensional characters. The main characters, especially Joseph and Aurelia, the Mexican "witch," are believable and sympathetic. While reading this story, I kept envisioning Joseph as a John Wayne-esque sort of a character, a quiet loner of a guy, strong, competent, and independent but with a heart of gold that prevents him from casting off his unwanted entourage. His circumstances bring out a sort of begrudging heroism hidden behind his stony exterior. Aurelia's story brings out just the slightest bit of magical realism in a tale that mostly consists of a simple, hardscrabble existence in frontier Texas. The frontier itself is as much a character as the rest, casting the human characters in sharp relief against itself and shaping each of them with its power.
Vida has created a quiet story and one in which the characters only slowly make their way into your heart, and you only realize how deeply you care for them when tragedy strikes. Somehow, though, I didn't quite connect with it. There were a few times when I thought maybe I was making a connection, but they were short-lived. Perhaps it was the mood I was in when I read it or that the story seemed to peter out more than it seemed to definitively end. The epilogue seems almost tacked on as an afterthought to bring closure to a story so realistic that real closure is impossible. This is a novel that has very little artistically wrong with it, but one that, for me, failed to make the leap from a good story to a great one.
On a side note - I love the cover art on this. This is definitely something I would grab if I were just browsing around the book store and happened upon it. The horse, the people in the distance, the menacing cloudy sky - it all works very well and suits the book to a T. Bravo!
Many thanks to the author for sending me a copy for review.
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Cheryl's Book Nook