the englishman's boy is part western, and part early hollywood tale, exploring how we interpret civilization and savagery in our personal thoughts and action, and how that is reflected in the rest of society. it does so by recounting two stories: one of the titular character, drifting through the west, earning his guns, and his horse, becoming a man and a cowboy; and it is also the story of a writer who is looking to record the story of that cowboy, in early hollywood, to fulfill somebody else's dream of film as didactic history: both men learning what he can and cannot stand, when he can and cannot stand up for what he believes is right, and what the trade-offs are.
it's very well-written, with the occasional purple sentence here and there. i found the alternate chapter structure was well-balanced and the pacing was pretty good, though i had issues with foreshadowing regarding the girl toward the end of the book. the characterization is great, and i adore rachel gold -- some of the most poignant moments in the book swirl around her, and she softens what is a very masculine book.
almost what i like best is that this book is written by a canadian but not what i usually come by in canadian literature. sometimes it seems to get your canada arts council grant you have to stuff your book full of canadian themes: totem poles, the immigrant experience, or the vastness of the empty plains, of the country. that's just never resonated with me, and has stultified books i've read in the past. it does take a moment to address what it is to be canadian, however, and i thought this passage rang very true:
"And you're a Canadian, Harry. So why is a Canadian so concerned about teaching Americans how to be American?"
"Because I chose this place... Canada isn't a country at all, it's simply geography. There's no emotion there, not the kind Chance is talking about. There are no Whitmans, no Twains, no Cranes. Half the English Canadians wish they were really
English, and the other half wish they were Americans. If you're going to be anything, you have to choose. Even Catholics don't regard Limbo as something permanent. I remember when the ice used to break up on the South Saskatchewan. We'd be woken up in our bed in the middle of the night by a noise like an artillery barrage, you could hear it all over the city, a great crashing and roaring as the ice broke apart and began to move downriver. At first light, everybody would rush out to watch. Hundreds of people gathered on the riverbanks on a cold spring morning, the whole river fracturing, the water smoking up through the cracks, great plates of ice grinding and rubbing against the piles of the bridge with a desperate moan. It always excited me as a kid. I shook with excitement, shook with the ecstasy of movement. We all cheered. What we were cheering nobody knew. But now, here, when I listen to Chance, maybe I understand that my memory is the truest picture of my country, bystanders huddled on a riverbank, cheering as the world sweeps by. In our hearts we preferred the riverbank, preferred to be spectators, preferred to live our little moment of excitement and then forget it. Chance doesn't want Americans to forget to keep moving."
i want to keep moving too. :)