Saturday, 13 September 2014

Malcolm Brooks reading in Denver

Malcolm responding to a question at the reading. [Photo: Reid Farmer]
Malcolm Brooks is a friend whose first novel, Painted Horses, has been receiving a well deserved widely celebrated reception. His book has been included on many summer reading lists, he has been featured by Barnes and Nobel in their "Discover Great New Writers" series, and the book is widely receiving glowing reviews. Malcolm's writing is being compared to the best of the best: Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, Charles Frazier, Ivan Doig,  and Michael Ondaatje, Wallace Stegner, Thomas McGuane, Annie Proulx and others! All favorites of mine - no wonder I loved the book.  Here's an excerpt from a review in Dallas Morning News.
Painted Horses reads like a cross between Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, with a pinch of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient for good measure. It’s an earnest, romantic novel that seems destined for the silver screen. review by WILLIAM J. COBB, Dallas Morning News.
 I won't say much about the plot except to note that it's a Western novel (with a capital "W") mainly set in 1956 (my birth year) with flashbacks to WWII.  Not only that, but there is a significant character named Caldwell. Malcolm assures me that the character is named for me.

Carlos and I drove down to Denver last Wednesday for Malcolm's reading and book signing at the Tattered Cover.  Steve Bodio flew up from NM for the reading and to introduce Malcolm.   Other Denver friends showed up as well.

Malcolm reading.
Malcolm read one of the most heartbreaking and dramatic pieces from the book. After the reading, Malcolm took questions from the audience. There were some wonderful questions about his process and the origins of the novel. Malcolm's articulate and deeply personal answers captured the imaginations of all of us there.  Aside from the compelling sweeping narrative, Malcom's book reads like a vocabulary of almost lost words, words describing western landscape, horse anatomy, and technical language related to horse tack.  The breadth and depth of Malcolm's experience and research is astounding.

Gathering of the clan: Carlos, OldGunkie, Reid Farmer, Malcolm Brooks, Steve Bodio [photo: Connie Farmer]
And for all of us who think we might just write more if we had the time, Malcolm wrote the book over a period of five years while working full-time as a carpenter in Missoula.  He puts us all to shame.

I took the pig over the door as a very good sign indeed and the menu and food did not disapoint.
After the reading, on Arthur's recommendation, nine friends retired to a fine Italian restaurant Osteria Marco to continue the conversation with food and drink.  I could not resist the Ciccioli Succulent Braised Pulled Pork appetizer and had the Rabbit Roman Gnocchi, Apple-Fennel Braise, Whole Grain Mustard Sauce as a main course.  Wine drinkers among us shared a bottle of red Tuscan wine recommended by the waiter though I do not recall the name.

Our group included:  Arthur (a friend of Steve's with expertise in rare antique military weapons), Arthur's sister, Malcolm, Connie Farmer's sister, Connie Farmer (Reid's wife), Reid Farmer (archeologist and contributor to the Querencia blog), Carlos Martinez Del Rio, Steve, and myself. The food and drink was excellent and then, of course, there was endlessly fascinating and wide ranging conversion; writing and writers (good, bad, and obnoxious), falconry, guns, pigeons, more guns, food, wine, and music. A woefully incomplete list of topics I can recall that were mentioned or discussed included: Annie Dillard, the post-punk band Mission of  Burma, mushroom hunting, Johnny Cash, the eccentric Oxford naturalist Jonathan Kingdon, Remington Model 8 rifles,  Mauser Broomhandles (especially regarding the merits of the 7.63 Mauser cartridge over the 9mm Luger chambering), Annie Proulx, the 1903 Mannlicher Schoenaur rifle, technical details (that were beyond my ken) of evolutionary biology of horses, dinosaurs, birds and lizards.

Our table at Osteria Marco.
A good time was had by all.  I can not imagine anyone who better deserves the astounding success Malcolm is enjoying and the wonderful reception of his exceptional novel.   Congratulations Malcolm!   ... and if you don't have a copy - get one. 

Friday, 5 September 2014

Man Down

Antique Italian photograph of a man off his horse - dated  in pen 8.3.1926 
It's been some time since I posted here.  I spent most of my summer seeing a small army of physicians. They diagnosed an autoimmune condition as the cause of the peripheral neuropathy that has been affecting my feet and lower legs.  The experts will rarely say with certainty what causes this kind of condition, I am sure it is the result of a major viral infection in 2010 caused by Colorado Tick Fever.   For the time being anyway, I am mostly disabled. I'm able to get around with a cane and am wobbly from the drug therapy I am undergoing.  Nerves heal, but even in the best case it will take a year (or more) to regain my balance and strength.  For concerned readers I should note that I maintain what I like to think of as a realistic optimistism.

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Those of us who spend time in rugged country inhabited by large predators are often too keenly aware of the dangers posed by teeth and claws.  Being attacked by an animal that can kill and eat you is a primal fear dating to the very beginning of human existence.  Statistically, it is the tiny guys, the bacteria and viruses, that present the greatest threat, not the lions and tigers and bears. 

There are a couple of examples that come to mind, one fictional and one not.
Hemingway on safari in 1934
Hemingway's story The Snows of Kilimanjaro is structured around the irony of a seemingly inconsequential event resulting in the most dramatic outcome. Harry dies on safari, not killed by dangerous game but as the result of an infected wound caused by a thorn.  

Egyptologist Lord Carnavon, died from a mosquito bite.
The genesis of the Curse of the Pharaohs rests with a mosquito bite. What could be more inconsequential? The extraordinarily wealthy British adventurer George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, financed the expedition to excavate King Tut's tomb in the valley of the Kings.  In 1922 Lord Carnarvon entered the tomb. In 1923 he died in the Continental-Savoy Hotel in Cairo from a mosquito bite infected by a shaving accident.  His death, and others, spawned the legend of the curse on those who disturb the tomb of a mummy.

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While I was laid up this summer I spent far too much time looking at vintage and contemporary photographs online.  I looked at thousands of photographs but I did not know what I was looking for until I saw it, an antique Italian photograph of a horse and rider going down in a cloud of dust. In a rather stunningly symbolic way it represents my own situation. Man down.

The author with the Man Down photograph.