Not Just Any Man: A Novel of Old New Mexico

Written by Loretta Miles Tollefson
Review by Irene Colthurst

Gerald Locke, Jr., the son of an Irish servant girl and a free black man, heads to early 19th-century New Mexico for a few reasons: to get away from the bigotry of slave-state Missouri, to find his father, and to earn enough for a homestead of his own. Once in Taos, the hospitality of the Peabodys, genteel yet generous Jeremiah and his educated and opinionated daughter Suzanna, make Gerald begin to reconsider his goals. Driven by a repressed hope of proving worthy of Suzanna, Gerald begins to trap beaver to earn money, but the business is full of treachery, both physical and moral.

Loretta Miles Tollefson has written an absorbing tale that follows in the tradition of Cormac McCarthy, but also shows the town life of this territory on the northern edge of Mexico. Her male characters are often gruff; the trappers are almost stereotypical in their lack of refinement and tendency toward stubbornness and violence, and their physical trials are vivid to the point of being graphic in some instances. Gerald’s moral dilemmas come through well, even if his tendency to over-think and reluctance to act directly become a bit repetitive through the novel’s middle section.

The setting description is nicely done. Tollefson portrays the native and Mexican characters evenhandedly, given that most of the characters expressing opinions on them are white American men. I was unsure whether the racial attitudes expressed by the characters fully reflect the setting (this was a frontier land where cultures mixed, but still the early 19th century) or whether there was some degree of anachronism. Those doubts did nothing to diminish my great enjoyment of this novel, however. I recommend it to fans of McCarthy and to lovers of literature about the Old West in general.