Monday, September 23, 2019

A Time in the Sun by Jane Barry


“How come you to swap horses?” Obre said. 

“It ain’ my nature to risk a good horse or a woman’s reputation,” Shafter said. “As a rule, you owe ‘em both too much.” He looked straight ahead now. “You ever have to throw your horse, Ob?” 

“Hell, mine continual gets shot under me,” Obre said. 

Shafter said, “Your horse gets shot under you, you’re exposed too long. You jump and throw him and tie his legs together you got a bulwark from the minute you bend to grab that off fetlock till the minute he’s down.” He bit contemplatively at his lower lip; the gesture flattened the tapered ends of the blond mustache. He thought of the warm struggling body jerking under bullet and arrow, and your head pressed against the doomed belly which rumbled and fought to expel the bowels. Most Indians did not aim for the horse because they wanted it. Then again, most men did not want to be afoot in the desert. But sometimes the horse, the living breastwork, was all there was.

Friends, this one was a complete surprise for me. I had never heard of the author let alone the 1962 novel. Barry spent time in the Southwest to absorb the background and also spent much time immersed in the history and the people at the time of the Apache Wars. These efforts pay off in spades.

Extremely well-written, well-informed while wearing that learning lightly, able at bouncing perspectives where each character lives and breathes. 

There are moments of adventure, heartbreak, yearning love, and a bit of soapbox concerning Indian Affairs, but I find myself agreeing with her perspective and found none of it intrusive.

Here’s more excerpts of her fine work.

Beside Shafter, Elias drew a long breath of relief. Kiernan was good with a gun, as good as any teamster on his run, and he knew a couple of fast tricks. Obre knew all the tricks, but he used only one. He had never filed the sights, as many did, so that they would not trip clearing leather, but he oiled the insides of his holsters. He liked to sight when he fired, and he was expert at angle sighting from any level he could set his eye. Within ten yards he would not have an opportunity to aim, and he figured Kiernan at six or six and a half yards from him. He never fanned his guns either, not even in practice; it tore them up and busted them apart too quickly, and it was show-off stuff and not his way. The first shot had to count; he never figured on another chance. Nor had he sliphammered the Dances, or any other gun, not since he was a kid, kicking a can along in the dust with a ripping barrage of shots. There was one thing: there weren’t any triggers on the Dances. He found long ago there was no sense doing in two hard motions, cocking, pulling, what you could do in a sole practiced one. It took a long time, a lot of training, to learn you didn’t need a trigger or a trigger finger, to master letting the hammer slide off the joint of the thumb so oiled and slick the aim didn’t flicker a fraction, to coordinate every individual specific move in a series of moves into a smooth cohesive whole. The skill did not, with him, rise particularly from speed in drawing. It lay rather in an uncanny ability to compute the error factor in another man, another man’s guns, a sixth sense like a built-in calculator, so automatic that it was like the flawless operation of a faultless machine. It had to do with the inherent, mostly overlooked thing which, coupled with speed and accuracy and perhaps more important than both, made the edge between the mere marksman and the valid gunfighter: the sheer gut to stand up to another gun.

Or this…

“The years go slowly by, Lorena,
The snow is on the grass again.
The suns go down the sky, Lorena,
The frost sleeps where the flowers have lain.” 

It was a sad song. He’d heard it all through the war, and yet he never tired of hearing it. He guessed there were times a man actually took a kind of pleasure in being sad. So what was he complaining about, that he’d done good deeds and bad, when he was loose on the country again with a friend who could sing and had a good gun and another who could make him smile now and then. He was getting to be a terrible complainer, in his soul.

Or this…

“The guts to beat down every obstacle in the way, not ever counting the cost, so’s to have some of the damn little happiness and peace granted to man in the span of his days. You think that doesn’t take courage? Most of us drift because that’s easiest....If a little of what’s happy comes our way we’ll take it, but we won’t work for it. Most of us don’t know what we want to make us happy; that’s part of the reason we sit tight, hoping whatever it is will show. And selfish. Strange partners, maybe, but there they are, courage and selfishness. I like people who know what they want, right off. I like you, but you don’t know what you want any more, do you?”

Or this…

Shafter only made a pretense at grinning. After they had gone he continued to rub the pup’s ear. He could feel, fully for the first time, the lines of wind, squint, years, pain tighten in his face, the slow dull ache of aging, of the body yielding to the persuasive stresses and tensions of decline, the muscles playing out like uncoiled rope, the heart asserting its increasing unwillingness to play the game. No sir, by God, he’d had enough, and it was time he thought of pushing on to where he could age a little slower, carry less in his mind, and unlearn himself how to meddle.

Hell, that’s enough. Read it and add it to the list of unsung classics.

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