In American by Blood, three U.S. Army scouts leading an infantry column arrive a day late to join Custer at the Little Bighorn. They come upon the ruins of th Seventh Cavalry, a trail of blood and corpses defiled by wild dogs and swarms of flies. It is a scene that will haunt these three young men in vivid and irrevocable ways.
With the loss at Little Bighorn, their mission to find and help clear the land of the Indian tribes ineluctably becomes one of vengeance as well. They journey into limitless wilderness after their prey, skirmishing in the dense forests and the high plains.
The scouting party consists of James H. Bradley, who discovers that war is as much a test of the heart as it is of his ideals; William Gentle, who finds himself torn between his desire to emulate the older soldiers and his fascination with the Indians they hunt; and August Huebner, who wishes to see an America beyond that which he knows and escape the slums of the newly industrialized East.
Gus Huebner was the author's great-great-grandfather, who in 1875 left New Jersey to join the army int he West. Family myth has it that he arrived a day late to the Battle of Little Bighorn. From these scant biographical details, Andrew Huebner has imagined a rich and powerful novel of the American West. American by Blood unforgettably combines epic storytelling and evocations of awe-inspiring natural beauty with a shattering repudiation of some of our nation's most central myths.
One of the biggest mistakes an aspiring writer can make is to become grossly enamored of a well-established literary figure. Huebner's first novel shows a clear admiration of the sometimes quirky but highly recognizable style of Cormac McCarthy and thereby undermines what could have been a marvelous, horrific tale of vengeance and pathos in the aftermath of the Little Bighorn Massacre. At the opening, James Bradley--documented as the first officer to discover the ravages of Custer's Seventh Cavalry--rides onto the bloody battlefield accompanied by two privates, William Gentle and August Huebner, the author's great-great- grandfather. The men report the result of Custer's strategic blunder, then continue to try to track down the hostile Sioux and Cheyenne and ultimately the Nez Perce, as the Indians fight a running, retreating series of battles across the mountains and prairies of Montana and South Dakota, trying to escape to Canada. The soldiers form a triumvirate point of view, with Bradley as the voice of duty, Huebner the voice of reason and Gentle (the soldier credited ultimately with the murder of Crazy Horse) the voice of mystical frontier pragmatism. Punctuated with beautiful descriptive passages of wilderness flora and fauna, the novel graphically details the skirmishes that followed the military disaster on the Greasy Grass, revealing with rare candor the inner thoughts of American troopers involved in a deadly struggle with a desperate foe. Unfortunately, Huebner's decision to eschew conventional punctuation, his verbal anachronisms and a few outright historical errors (the Comanche were not at Little Bighorn) render the story difficult to follow. Huebner clearly has McCarthy's rhythms down, but unlike the older writer, Huebner doesn't quite get the melody right. And that's a pity, for he certainly has an original and potentially inspiring lyric in mind. Agent, Simon Green. Foreign rights sold in U.K. and Germany. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Simon & Schuster
April 17, 2001
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Excerpt from American By Blood by Andrew Huebner
They rode up over a trail to a rise with the three scouts in the lead. As they passed through a patch of juniper trees, the sun turned hot and the very air around them, with the sawing legs of the hoppers and the twits of the birds, seemed to hum with heat. Before them was a valley now with dew burning light on the spots of dying, browned grass. Tall sprigs of Queen Anne's Lace caressed the horses' legs and speckled the soldiers' boots with their sex.
Coming over a rise they saw the white things on the hills. Bradley's horse snorted, hesitating, sniffing the air. He kicked it on ahead.
Hah, he called to it.
No one else spoke.
Not even Shit, what in the hell, or Goddamn.
Maybe it was the smell, or the flies, or the wild dogs. The dogs were everywhere, they darted under the legs of their horses. They yelped wildly at their horses and gnawed brazenly at their boots. The soldiers kicked at them and hollered. The dogs had blood on their yaps. Their eyes rolled back white in their heads.
There were so many flies. A fog of them attacked the Private called Gentle, his eyes, nose, in his mouth when he yelled and cursed, kicked his horse's flank and rode through it.
The smell was like a film that permeated their souls through the pores of their skin. They drew their hankies and bandannas from their saddlebags and tied them around their noses like bandits. Their necks pricked and their backs tingled. From the south a crow cawed, then another. The big, black birds flapped overhead, close enough to Gentle that he could hear their wings. He ducked as they passed. When he looked around, no one was watching.
The Lieutenant's lead point, Private August Huebner, was the first of them to spot the dead. As he rode alongside the river he saw a horse and looked that way.
Its labored breathing sounded raw and strange, head all swelled, an empty eye-hole, leaking pus. Bradley drew his pistol and shot it. His hand shook a bit, and he had to use the other to steady.
Keep your eyes open, he said.
Dried blood had flowed in a path into a pond-like place, had turned the land under them black. Their horses stepped lightly on it, like they were walking now on some new surface.