Set in post-Civil-War 1860s Texas, the story follows Simon, a fiddler recently deserted from the Confederate Army who wanders through small Texas towns eking out a living playing fiddle in bars and public houses with his two companions, Doroteo and Damon. Simon falls in love with Miss Doris Dillon, a young Irish immigrant under contract as governess to Colonel Webb, a lecherous tyrant. Simon and Doris are separated, and the book spans Simon’s life trying to woo her from afar while dodging bar fights and alligators.
Jiles’ writing is sublime. She obviously does her research, but the story was never pedantic. The descriptions of the second-hand clothes the men wore riddled with bullet holes, the dust and grime that covered their hands, the heat and sickness pervading the small towns were absorbing. I was quickly immersed in the kaleidoscope of Simon’s life, each incident bringing twists and changes as he squeaked through one trouble after another. At the core of this novel is the volatile time period and the treacherous Texas environs. The book isn’t so much plot driven as it is simply an experience. Jiles captures the west in uncertain political times, describing the unpredictable lifestyle of the characters against a barren and often dangerous landscape.
Many thanks to LibraryThing and William Morrow / Harper Collins for the advance copy in exchange for my review.