Tuesday, June 23, 2020

A Brand New Classic: BILLY (THE KID) by Peter Meech

Author Peter Meech didn't just write this book, he painstakingly crafted every sentence from first to last. There's a big difference. The average novel, if it tells a satisfying story, can get by with prose that's merely adequate. The truly great books are those that excel in both story and the way that story is told.

Billy (the Kid) is that rare animal that excels in both.

The premise is a great one. Billy McCarty, a retired dentist in the quiet town of Pueblo, Colorado, tells everyone he meets he used to be Billy the Kid. Was he really? That's the central question of the novel— but there's a whole lot more going on.

Peter Meech offers and intimate and thoughtful portrayal of a short period in McCarty's life. And "Kid" or not, he's a fascinating character. In his memory—or imagination (or both) he reflects on the past he may (or may not) have had fighting in the Lincoln County War, landing with the Rough Riders in Cuba, working for Buffalo Bill's Wild West, meeting Jesse James, and seeking spiritual enlightenment with the Mescalero Apache. 

In the present, meanwhile, he's playing mentor to a kid whose father is in trouble, trying to spark the prettiest widow in town, and walking a thin and deadly line between rival bootleggers. And all while, he's collecting "Kid" memorabilia and plugging away on his memoir, to be called My Life and Times.

Part of the fun is seeing how an Old Westerner is adapting to the changing times. It's the early 1930s, a world with Cadillacs, Tommy guns, Prohibition, Zippo lighters, Standard Oil, Fats Waller, Blondie and Dagwood, Mars bars, the Reverend Fulton J. Sheen, Piggly Wiggly and the planet Pluto. We see Billy driving a Model T, going to the movies, discovering Wonder Bread, drinking Coca-Cola, reading Burma Shave signs and listening to The Lone Ranger on the radio.

But it's not all fun and games. Mr. Meech deals in serious themes like grief and loss, parental and social responsibility, the Seen and the Unseen, what it feels like to kill, and what it means to be a man. There's something for everyone here: humor, romance, murder and gunslinging action. And all elegantly told.

Billy (the Kid) is a book you don't want to miss.


Cap'n Bob said...

Seriously, did you like it?

Cap'n Bob said...

What? It's $12.99 for the Kindle version. I'll wait.