Billy the Kid Week 2011: Review of The Stone Garden: The Epic Life of Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid Week

Our final day of Billy the Kid Week.  I am celebrating the 130 year anniversary of Billy the Kid’s death by reviewing a bunch of novels featuring Billy the Kid.  Today’s book is The Stone Garden: The Epic Life of Billy the Kid by Bill Brooks.

The Stone Garden cover

This book is somewhat a sequel to yesterday’s Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid. It is a fictional story about what happened to Billy the Kid after Garrett shot him.  It posits that Garrett actually shot a cow thief named Billy Barlow that night and covered it up.  This book acts as Billy’s journal.  It covers the events of Billy’s life up to the shooting and what happened to him after the shooting as well as if he ever got revenge on Pat Garrett.

I love the idea of this book.  The idea is very similar to another book I read, The Frankenstein Papers by Fred Saberhagen.  It takes an existing work and continues the story from another point of view.  I love that.  However, I didn’t just LOVE this book.  The main problem lies in the structure.  This book’s story is literally all over the place.  Brooks jumps around throughout Billy’s life in a non-linear way.  You’ll hear about an event that happened in one chapter but not see that event until many chapters later.  Plus, half way though the book, the narrator changes to Billy’s girlfriend.  We’ll be discussing Billy’s mother in one chapter, then we’ll see an entire chapter on his friend Charlie and his wife.  It was really hard to get a foot hold on this book’s story with all the jumping around.  And the author kept sticking in poems and quotes from Shakespeare and Lord Byron.  It feels like he was trying to turn this book into literature.  And it’s decidedly NOT.

I don’t know, I really wanted to love this book because the hook is great.  Billy escaped his death and went on living until he was in his 90s.  What happened to him?  But just as I would get into the story, the narrator or the timeline would shift and I would have to readjust.  It was very disconcerting.

I did like how Brooks incorporated passages and events from Garrett’s book.  It was obvious Brooks read that book and built his narrative off the text and events in it.  But, again, the disconcerting way the novel was written really hindered my enjoyment.

So, a recommend?  For western fans and/or Billy the Kid fans, yes, but with a warning, the narrative jumps around a lot.  But it’s a good enough premise to keep you reading.  I never once thought about stopping the book.  It’s funny, when I got this book in the mail from Paperbackswap.com, the cover seemed very familiar to me.  I honestly thought I’d read it.  If I did read it back when I was reading all those western books (early-mid 90s), then I don’t remember it.  At all.  And I probably won’t remember this again in another few years.

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