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The Swansong of Wilbur McCrum

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Wilbur McCrum is not a lucky man. Actually, he's not lucky, period -- a fact that becomes obvious from the moment he first emerges, screaming, into the world -- for Wilbur's birth coincides with his sister's death. And as Wilbur (prone to fits and with a pathological fear of cows) grows, he subsequently loses his father, and is then in turn lost -- abandoned -- by his mother. Dispossessed and passed from pillar to post, he's eventually left with no choice but to take to the road, the wind at his back and 'lucky' potato in his pocket. As he searches for a place he can call home -- somewhere far away from cows (easier said than done in the Wild West) -- he encounters madmen, conmen, wenches and whores; embarks on a career robbing stagecoaches (initially unwittingly); falls in love, and into a well; escapes bounty hunters and body snatchers; and, erm, becomes a librarian.

A dazzling and inventive first novel set in gold-rush-era America, " The Swansong of Wilbur McCrum" tells the story of an unlikely and largely unlucky life, from birth to books with a few near brushes with death in-between.

357 pages, Hardcover

First published June 5, 2009

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Bronia Kita

1 book1 follower

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5 stars
8 (25%)
4 stars
12 (38%)
3 stars
7 (22%)
2 stars
1 (3%)
1 star
3 (9%)
Displaying 1 - 9 of 9 reviews
Profile Image for Kirsten Fleetwood.
263 reviews3 followers
September 21, 2018
Why isn't this book more popular? Why has it got so few reviews? It's a real wee gem of a book!
This is the life story of one Wilbur McCrum, born somewhere in the mid West to pioneers, in fact he was born in a covered wagon at the very moment his 3 year old sister fell to her death under its wheels. Yes, life is a mixed bag of terrible luck and crazy coincidences for Wilbur.
Wilbur tells his extraordinary tale in a voice that's engaging and occasionally comic, it's short on details but big on plot twists; a rollicking ride through the Wild West with a cast of thousands - farmers, prostitutes, outlaws, architects, children, undertakers, actresses, sideshow freaks and preachers.
If you ever find this book i recommend you try it, it's a hoot!
128 reviews2 followers
March 22, 2022
I’m surprised this isn’t rated by many people. I picked this one up at a library sale and it was an exciting wild-west turn of the century read, following Wilbur from his childhood through old age and all the troubles he had along the way. He is a simple-minded man with a tendency for ‘fits’ where he blacks out. The book is quick-paced, has elements of romance, adventure, drama, and comedy. It was just a quirky little story that I would compare to maybe Huckleberry Finn or Paper Moon or News of the World, or the movie O Brother, where art thou? But different in its own way. Through all of his mishaps and misfortunes, Wilbur turns out to be a likable old man with a stubbornness to do what’s right for those he loved.
Profile Image for Caroline.
717 reviews117 followers
March 23, 2011
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I didn't love it and I doubt I'll read it again, but it was a very enjoyable, entertaining read. It's very quirky and odd, a sort of 'tall-tale' kind of book. There are lots of coincidences and encounters with famous people from history, and in any other kind of story you might find it all too far-fetched, but with this kind of story it fits. It's about a man named Wilbur McCrum and how he more or less stumbles through life, becomes an outlaw almost by accident, inspires his own religion, joins the cirus, falls in love and spends a large part of his life searching for his sweetheart (and there's more about her, but that would spoil the surprise). I was sad to finish this book, sad to leave Wilbur's story behind - but it was such a fun book to read that I couldn't put it down.
Profile Image for Maya Panika.
Author 1 book68 followers
August 18, 2009
Innocent and delightful - The road book of a life. Quirky, unexpected, surprisingly readable, unpretentious, a good story well told. Wilbur tells the story of his strange, eventful life in a series of short tales. Twists and turns abound; every time you think Wilbur has finally found his niche, along comes another bizarre event, another odd character to send his life spinning off in the most unanticipated directions.

My only complaint that it seemed terribly rushed at the end; Cal’s death especially, seemed precipitous and peculiar and this apparent sudden rush to finish was very jarring when the pacing throughout the rest of the book had been so perfect. With another 4 or 5 chapters to round out the end, I'd have given this 5 stars with no hesitation.
Profile Image for Charles.
Author 42 books178 followers
November 2, 2010
I loved this book. It was effortlessly witty, beautifully written (and skilfully plotted - picaresque isn't as easy as it might look), often moving, pitch-perfect in tone and a genuine appropriation of a world and style rather than, what might have been expected, a parody of it. If Kita didn't live in the wild west - and, judging from her biography, she didn't - some earlier incarnation certainly did. All in all, a great read and the kind of book that could easily attract a cult following, and may already have done so, although what it deserves is massive mainstream success. Do yourself a favour and buy a copy!
Profile Image for Sarah Haman.
690 reviews
March 28, 2012
An interesting story about a boy/man who grows up in the West. He loses both parents. He also suffers from "fits". These fits create and interesting way of life and help him deal with acceptance and more :) They also wind him up in some strange circumstances.

This story also gives a good look at the way life may have been in the "wild" west.
Profile Image for Andy Theyers.
336 reviews6 followers
May 29, 2015
I was recommended this by someone who saw similarities with The Sisters Brothers. Honestly I think that similarity is very superficial, but I'm glad of the recommendation nonetheless :) I don't often find funny books very funny, but this had me chuckling at regular intervals; Wilbur's turns of phrase are quite beautiful in places. A book full of joyful coincidences and appalling luck.
Profile Image for Angela.
453 reviews5 followers
December 20, 2011
Old West tall tale with a clever narrator. I love the first page, where the narrator begins telling his life story as scenes flash before his eyes as he sinks to his death in a well.
Displaying 1 - 9 of 9 reviews

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