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The gritty lives of the characters, in a wrong-side-of-the-tracks setting, lends a toughness to the tone. Conversations are not polite; characters speak their minds. Some dialogue is funny, befitting eighteen-year-old humor, and keeps the mood light during drama and intrigue. They are equally well developed and take part in building the story.

They are studious and hardworking, and they jump off the page with their charisma and depth. The writing is expansive and forward moving. The story moves between , the s, and , jumping back and forth in time to reinforce the changes in the characters and build suspense. The climactic event takes up a tiny fraction of the novel and is told in an unemotional tone.

Action drives the novel, but ideas fuel it. The novel wraps up quietly, like the still after a summer storm, and is satisfying. Reviewed by Mari Carlson August 19, Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. Kirkus Review Starred Review : Intensely dramatic debut, set in Kansas and points west and southwest during the s: a direct homage to Cormac McCarthy's highly praised fiction both his Blood Meridian and the recent Border Trilogy but also an original work of high distinction.

The protagonist, teenaged Gabriel Lynch, arrives from the East with his widowed mother Eliza and younger brother Ben at a train station where they're met by her husband-to-be, Solomon Johns, a farmer who had been Eliza's first love before her life with the boys' father, a prosperous middle-class Baltimore mortician. Gabriel resents the opportunities lost, and the hard life they're introduced to, and eagerly leaves "home," joining another black boy James to ride with a group of cattle drovers.

A bloodthirsty odyssey ensues, as the gang's embittered leader Marshall Hogg an amoral fatalist straight out of Dostoevsky directs his minions to steal, rape, and murder, ever moving on, through Mexico, Arizona, and the Rockies, en route to California, away from the avengers who slowly, methodically pursue them. Durham tells this story with great skill, weaving together a beautifully plotted central action and extended italicized passages detailing the embattled growth to manhood of the stoical Ben and the steely determination of a bereaved Mexican soldier who'll follow Hogg to hell and back.

Meanwhile, he also depicts with hallucinatory vividness the enigmatic figure of Hogg's second-in-command Caleb, a black drover who never speaks, and harbors a terrible secret indeed Gabriel's Story grates on the reader's nerves unerringly, and frequently rises to real grandeur. A brilliant example of how to assimilate and transmute powerful literary influence.

And what a movie this dark, haunting tale will make. Gabriel is angry with his lot in life, particularly with his mother, who has taken him from his home in the East and his dream of becoming a doctor to a homestead on the plains and a stepfather, Solomon, whom he has barely met. Soon Gabriel befriends another dissatisfied youth, James, and the two innocent African American boys run away from their troubles in search of adventure with a band of cowboys. The road they've chosen becomes a perilous one, taking them across the American West with men prone to violence and pursued by their own demons.

On this journey from home and back, one could conclude that Gabriel discovers what he values, but one also sees the enactment of that old saying about the grass being greener on the other side. And the surfeit of symbolism for example, picture Eliza crossing troubled waters will have critics salivating.

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Nevertheless, the circular movement of the plot is devastatingly powerful, particularly the embedded coming-of-age story involving the leader of the cowboys, Marshall Hogg, and his chief companion, the black Caleb. First-time novelist Durham acknowledges the influence of Cormac McCarthy's border trilogy, and Durham's novel does recall McCarthy's work in its juxtaposition of the pristine beauty and spaciousness of the land with the raw violence of the men come to carve a civilization out of it.

Yet, perhaps because of the African American family and the skillful manipulation of myths, Durham posits a slant on the settlement of the West that speaks to the essential multicultural character of the nation. Durham is a storyteller touched by an angel. Bonnie Smothers.

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Book Magazine: Durham has an ancient Israelite's knowledge of the desert, its mirages and badlands, beauty and threat. His language is King James plain and poetic His West is a testing ground where human emotions as old as humanity reveal themselves.


Rather than McCarthy's sometimes hardwired aggression, Durham focuses on acculturated racism against Indians, blacks, Mexicans. The result is a morally complicated, socially nuanced story of American violence and its discontents. Told with great economy and restraint, it is a very promising debut. One night early in year-old Gabriel Lynch's journey southwest from his family's struggling Kansas homestead to the more glamorous cowboy precincts of Texas, he awakens and notices an armadillo making its clumsy way over to him.

The creature nestles against his body and falls asleep. The next day he sees his first Indian settlement, its ragtag residents demoralized and starving, reduced to eating grasshoppers.


Not long afterward he finds himself an unwitting player in a grisly quadruple murder, an eruption of lawlessness and carnage that he will never manage ''to clean from his mind completely. To readers of the literature of the American West, these striking scenes represent a familiar, if endlessly interesting, physical and spiritual journey. But Gabriel's story is rendered all the more intense by the fact that he's not just a Maryland-born Easterner, new to the wonders and horrors of the West; he's also black.

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In the decade after the Civil War in which David Anthony Durham's bold and richly imagined first novel is set, being black means that Gabriel is often a walking target. And yet, because of that, he may also be especially primed to experience the blissful solitude, self-sufficiency and self-possession that the vast and varied Western landscape fosters.

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  4. From the Underground Railroad to the Great Migration, the journey north is so important to African-American history and culture that it's easy to overlook the many black people who headed west instead. Gabriel's widowed mother has brought him and his brother from their home in Baltimore to join her new husband on the homestead he's already started farming. To Gabriel's homesick eyes, the place is an inauspicious mess, and the days ahead promise nothing but backbreaking work, drudgery and sacrifice.

    When a flashy band of cowboys whips into town to auction off some horses, Gabriel, accompanied by his friend James, decides to skip out on his family and sign on as a hand for the trip back down to Texas. The group they join is led by a fast-talking, charismatic white man named Marshall and his mysteriously silent black partner, Caleb. It doesn't take long for Gabriel to realize that their destination is far from certain -- the horses were stolen, Marshall is a homicidal maniac and Caleb is a seething mass of hatred bound to enact ''some drama upon the world.

    At first the gang's murderous episodes appear motivated by vengeance and score-settling, but soon enough they are killing and raping with merciless abandon. Gabriel and James watch in terrified dread.

    Fanny and Gabriel

    It's only when Marshall's men commit an act of pure evil against a Mexican family and a vigilante comes after them that the band starts to unravel for good and Gabriel can hold out hope of seeing his family again. Durham's sonorous yet disciplined language soars during Gabriel's solitary journey homeward, the emotional center of the novel.

    Gabriel's true education begins as he finds himself becoming part of something magnificent and teeming: ''There was a pattern to the world, a meaning modeled by the land itself, that he began to divine through his silent journey. Her earthy scent was around him always, in the fibers of his clothes, on his hands, in his very skin. Durham is really tracing two stories: the swath cut through the land by Marshall's outlaws and the stationary but still always developing story of the farm built by Solomon and Eliza, Gabriel's stepfather and mother. The novel's main narrative stays with Gabriel as he moves in each of these worlds, but Durham intercuts the story of his protagonist's progress with italicized sections that track the action where Gabriel is not -- first with Marshall, later with Solomon and Eliza.

    In this way the novel constantly juxtaposes the twin realities of Western life, the itinerant cowboy and the industrious homesteader, mutually exclusive yet interdependent.

    Gabriel's Story: A Novel - David Anthony Durham - كتب Google

    It's these two destinies that Gabriel must choose between. The moral weight of the novel rests on the virtues of farming and creating a stable home. Solomon, a former slave who lives in daily gratitude for the chance to build a life for his family, is a figure of quietly heroic proportions: ''That's what it's all about out here, looking to the future and making it so,'' he says when Gabriel, just arrived in Kansas, expresses a sullen disdain for the state of the homestead.