(Random House Canada, 2015)
A fiction pick by Jean-Louis
I am always on the lookout for new novelists who write Westerns because we cannot supply enough of them to our library patrons. When The Winter Family showed up in the previews I thought that maybe I had a new writer for our Western fans. Now that I have read the book, however, I am pretty sure that Cliff Jackman is not the next Louis L’Amour.
What Cliff Jackman, a Canadian lawyer and novelist, has written is really a western noir. The novel is full of gunfights, murder, and general mayhem. The characters are over the top, fueled by greed, hate, and just plain meanness. What makes the story interesting, however, is the historical context for the novel. We begin the action at the end of the Civil War when the Union soldiers are at the end of their campaign and have turned to out and out pillaging in the South. Whether or not the extreme violence has been sanctioned by General Sherman is debatable.
The gun culture of America is at the heart of this novel–the violent characters who are forged during the Civil War (among the country’s most violent period) go on to find other outlets. Jackman moves his characters across the American landscape to join with the Ku Klux Klan, up north to the rough theatre of municipal politics in Chicago, down south to the late Indian wars in Arizona, and on to the borderlands with Mexico.
The moral code which characterizes the Western novels of Louis L’Amour and others is not operational in Jackman’s novel. What we have here is a full on examination of the dark side of progress which marked America’s development in the mid to late 1800s. It will be very interesting to see what Jackman chooses as the subject for his next novel.