In an astoundingly well imagined novel about a moment in American history when the modern and the ancient were at war, Jim Fergus takes readers on a journey of magnificent sweep and heart breaking consequence. With prose so vivid that the road dust practically rises off the page, THE WILD GIRL is an epic novel told by a master of the form. When Ned Giles is orphaned as a teen ager, he packs his bags into his parents car his only inheritance from their indebted estate and heads West. His goal is to join the Great Apache Expedition, a band of paying gentlemen and their servants who are enlisted in the search for the 7 year old son of a wealthy Mexican landowner, who was kidnapped by Wild Apaches. Once at his destination, Giles is befriended by the drunken head photographer for the daily newspaper, who shows him the ropes of being a news photographer, and Ned joins up with an eccentric band of dilettantes, lawmen, and one female anthropologist, who will head off to Mexico in search of the boy.
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April 03, 2006
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Excerpt from The Wild Girl by Jim Fergus
A man's memory is the faultiest of instruments, vulnerable to retrospection and revisionism, altered by age and distance, skewed by heartbreak, disappointment, and vanity, tainted always by the inconsolable hope that the past was somehow different than we really knew it to be. This is why memoirs are always, by definition, false. But a photograph never lies. I think it is what attracted me to the form originally. My own memory is largely visual, the years and decades of my life defined by images, hundreds of thousands of photographs taken over the past half century, although what has become of most of them I could not say. It hardly matters anymore; I don't need to look at the images themselves in order to remember, for they live on perfectly preserved in my mind; I can see the light and composition of each, the specific expression on a subject's face, a sweep of landscape, the naked truth of an empty room, sunlight spilling across a doorway, the door itself half open, the mystery inside.
I close my eyes and see with perfect recall a dark-eyed girl of my youth running down a dry arroyo. She is slight, strong, fierce, her skin the color of a chestnut, her hair black and thick as a mane. I freeze her in my camera lens, but she moves on like a dream, refusing to be stilled. Many people believe that a photograph is an inanimate object, time stopped, frozen in place. But it is not. It is only that specific moment between what just was and what is about to come, a single moment alive and moving forever between past and future.
I no longer take photographs; I don't need to make any more memories, I have more than enough to last. My health is poor, my heart bad; I wake up in the middle of the night short of breath to feel it fluttering weakly in my chest like a dying bird. I don't have long to live.
Still, the imminence of death does not prevent me from hearing the continual click of shutters in my dreams, or from seeing the old images passing in my mind's eye like a slide show. Quite the contrary. The old saw has it that as you grow older you can't remember whether or not you took your medication five minutes ago, but you can remember with total recall something that took place fifty, sixty, seventy years ago. This is appallingly true.