Spanning the years 1878 to the late 1890s, this saga of the American Southwest follows the life of Lily Cassidy Moss, who at age 15, begins an almost unceasing chain of death, heartbreak and despair – to her family and many of those around her — seeking revenge for the loss of her father to an assassin’s bullet.
Although she loves the outlaw Jasper Stone, Lily agrees to marry wealthy rancher Emmett Moss. He needs a son; she needs the death of the man who hired the gunslinger who killed her father.
Despair and sorrow are the key words here. Lives built on lies are allowed very little leeway on the paths they follow. Like living through the plagues in Biblical times, life on Emmett Moss’s ranch is filled with hardship, suicides, child killing, and more.
This may be a sexist comment, but I do not believe a man could write a book describing the toils and travails of life on the frontier as brutally honest as this one. The romantic image of the West which authors like Max Brand and Louis L’Amour envisioned are sheer fantasies compared to the tapestry of nightmares that Elizabeth Fackler weaves. (My spellchecker would like “Fackler” changed to “Folklore” — that of a grim fairy tale, perhaps.)
The book is compulsively readable, something like watching a train wreck in progress. Only the ending is a little murky — some redemption may finally be in store — in all other matters, Fackler says exactly what she wants to say.
One side note: The book is described on the back cover and by the Library of Congress data on the reverse of the title page as taking place during the Lincoln County Wars. This is strange since Lincoln County is never mentioned; what’s more, that it takes place in New Mexico is deduced only by the process of elimination. Neither Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett or any of the other players in that era in U.S. history have any role in the book, nor are they even discussed. The timeframe is correct, though, so all of the events in this novel must have been purely peripheral to what was going on in Lincoln County at that time.