There are slivers of the truth in Ondaatje's Billy the Kid, all the surrounding players and characters. The settings, the New Mexican snows and sands....moreThere are slivers of the truth in Ondaatje's Billy the Kid, all the surrounding players and characters. The settings, the New Mexican snows and sands. The poetry of it all, at least now, in our modern world, looking back and reflecting on what it was, or what it wasn't.
Essentially this is historical fiction as poetry. Even the prose is poetry. He can't help it. It flows naturally and gives a voice, a sorrow, a reality to the antihero Billy the Kid.
I love the many vignettes, the intertwined poetic ruminations by Billy, then the story told a little more clearly, via multiple perspective and experimental forms (photographs, notes, newspaper articles, interviews, other characters' voices, chiasma, etc.). The backstories of Tom O'Folliard and Livingstone the mad-dog man are some of my favorites. Ondaatje paints Pat Garrett as cold and logical, driven, the perfect assassin.
Billy is romantic:
--- --- she is crossing the sun sits on her legs here sweeping off the peels
traces the thin bones of me turns toppling slow back to the pillow Bonney Bonney (21) --- ---
And he is characterized with a shrewd, watchful eye. Ever observant and capable. Not quite man, but not boy (just Kid, maybe):
--- --- A river you could get lost in and the sun a flashy hawk on the edge of it
a mile away you see the white path of an animal moving through water
you can turn a hundred yard circle and the horse bends dribbles his face you step off and lie in it propping your head
till dusk and cold and the horse shift you and you look up and moon a frozen bird's eye
(26 -- this is one of my favorites) --- ---
Brilliant book. Fantastic read. It evokes past memories--we explored through Lincoln County and Billy the Kid historical grounds in October 2010. It also evokes memories of the past--many not even mine. Shared west memories of novel indoor baths with warm water, ferrotype photographs, dimestore novels, drafty barns, slow distances over sunburnt land on horseback, the red dirt still, STILL!, and friends who band together. And avenge each other. Highly recommended.(less)