"A novel of extraordinary wit and imagination, covering immense geographical, historical, and emotional ground. Full of twists and turns, verve and vinegar . . . A remarkable debut." --Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club
At once a comic glance at the old American West and a serious story about transformation and redemption, Turpentine is the remarkable literary debut from Spring Warren. In this ambitious novel, Warren delivers a bold and inventive story about a young man's attempt to make sense of the past while unsteadily growing into adulthood.
The year is 1871, and Edward Turrentine Bayard III, sick and restless, leaves his Connecticut home to recover out west. But when the private sanitarium in which he is to stay proves to be nothing more than a rickety outpost on the Nebraskan plains, he becomes a buffalo skinner. After returning to the East, Ned teams up with Phaegin, who earns her money rolling cigars, and Curly, a fourteen-year-old coal miner, but the newfound trio is wrongly accused of triggering a bomb at a labor rally, and they must flee. With a Pinkerton agent following their every move, the gang of winsome ne'er-do-wells engages in a circuitous escape that takes them through northern outposts into Indian country, past the slums of Chicago, and into the boundless Great Plains. En route they become witness to the transformation and growing pains of a burgeoning nation.
Warren's debut novel is a startling and prescient portrait of the great expanse of the American west: unforgiving, lawless, and rugged, a natural canvas for dreamers and escapees alike. Equally memorable is the novel's examination of a young hero: prone to failure, bold, and untested, Edward is a loveable and searching character in the vein of Mark Twain's Huck Finn. A contemporary story set in a distinct and old-fashioned era, Turpentine is a gritty, sure-footed homage to the frontier and its heroes, villains, and goons.
This highly episodic picaresque manages to outlast a generic, disorganized plot to emerge as an entertaining romp through the American 1870s. For the most part, Warren's debut follows the youthful adventures of Edward Turrentine Bayard III, who has left his upper-class Connecticut family and headed to frontier Nebraska for his health. In short order, he becomes a buffalo skinner, learns to ride and shoot, and is smitten by the beautiful and poetic Lill Martine. She has other ideas, and Ned, crestfallen but undaunted in his devotion, takes a job offer from a paleontologist back East. There, he meets Phaegin, an attractive, streetwise dance hall girl, and more or less adopts a juvenile delinquent named Curly. Curly's mischief soon has the trio accused of anarchy, theft and murder, and they flee across the continent for their lives. A series of improbable coincidences and misadventures follow, involving wealthy entrepreneurs, Mormons, Indians and a variety of rustic frontier types. There's no shortage of sudden death and grim gore, all of which remains comically on the surface. Characters come and go, often violently. But astonishingly, the sweetness of the story keeps it afloat. (Sept.)
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September 09, 2007
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Excerpt from Turpentine by Spring Warren
Excerpt from TURPENTINE
Nebraska, being good for cold the way the south side of houses was good for lilacs, was yet covered in icy mud. After seventeen years avoiding dust and drafts like poison gas, I was now ever chilled, never clean, and with no choice but to push on. I picked up my knife, the sizable blade honed to wicked sharpness, and began the divorce of hide from meat.
Tilfert Slade stood at my elbow. Overseer of the hide production, he'd taken on my western education to please my landlady, Avelina, whom he was courting. He was a huge man with tree trunk limbs and woolly hair that crested the cuffs and neck of his grimy shirt, onto his face and over his knuckles, but he was elegant as silk when at work. He sailed his blade between muscle and hide, sliding the steel from the tail, around each leg to the brawny neck, discharging hide from head, then turning to sheet his knife across the next beast.
The pay was twenty-five cents a hide, but for every quarter I earned, twenty cents went to boots, to biscuits, to liniment. Resolving to work faster, I rowed my knife through the hide. When I began the southern descent around the horn to the leg, however, I punctured the entrails loosing a belch of stink. I flung back retching, to the delight of Tilfert who was entertained by emetics. I didn't stint on his pleasure. Whereas life in civilization was scented and borne in pretty containers, in the West it oozed, poured from orifices, wriggled, stunk, and I was indisposed to it.