And Not to Yield: A Novel of the Life and Times of Wild Bill Hickok
Wild Bill Hickok kills only those who deserve to be killed in Randy Lee Eickhoff’s latest, an awkward reworking of the gunfighter’s life. Wild Bill narrates the tale himself, in a tangy, down-to-earth voice. As a young man he works on the family farm, helping his parents ferry slaves north on the Underground Railroad. His abolitionist father teaches him that not all Christians were born to turn the other cheek. Some must walk on the dark side – shadowy, protective, and, if necessary, violent, like Charlemagne’s knights or Sir Lancelot of the King Arthur tales. When young Hickok leaves home for Kansas, he carries these dicta in his heart.
Because Hickok has the uncanny ability to hit whatever he shoots at—and hit it quick—he earns a reputation in the Old West, one he comes to regret. The greater part of this book is a gripping account told in honest language, but swirling around in the pot are strange diversions: a thirteen-page Harper’s Weekly report of Hickok’s exploits, embroidered; a fevered dream sequence of Hickok as Sir Lancelot getting sweaty with Guinevere; the Archangel Gabriel descending upon the young gunfighter in his parent’s living room. In such a homespun narrative, these bits of magic realism bob about like gristle in a stew. Randy Lee Eickhoff is an exceptional writer (particularly his interpretation of the tales of The Ulster Cycle), but this lumpy novel needed more time to simmer over the campfire.