The Book Maven’s Literary Advent Calendar 2014, Day Eleven

December 17th, 2014 | Filed under Books, Reading, The Book Maven's Literary Advent Calendar

Hang on to your Christmas hats, readers–it’s going to be a wild ride as I catch up on nearly a week of Calendar posts!

There will be more nonfiction (yesterday’s post on “Fictitious Dishes” was a nod to that fact), but today I’m returning to a novel as my choice.

Today’s selection may mark the first time I’ve ever recommended a Western.

“Far As the Eye Can See: A Novel” by Robert Bausch

Far As the Eye Can SeeA few months back, my editor at Washingtonian magazine and I decided it would be a good idea for me to interview brothers Richard and Robert Bausch, who may well be the only pair of literary novelists who are also identical twins. The Bausches were raised here in the DC area, I’ve ready quite a few of their books, and it happened that Richard (who now lives in California) was going to be in Northern Virginia for George Mason University’s annual Fall for the Book festival. It all worked out, and I think readers will enjoy the result.

The interview meant that I also needed to read the latest books by both men: Richard’s “Before, During, After” was released in August, and Robert’s “Far As the Eye Can See” came out in November. I’ll admit when I saw the book jacket for the latter, my heart sank. I’ve never been a big fan of the Western genre, in any medium, mostly because I dislike the black-and-white thinking behind black hats and white hats.

However, I knew enough of Robert Bausch’s writing to know that his version of a Western was not going to be a simplistic one, and I was right: “Far As the Eye Can See” has to be this year’s most surprising read for me, not just because Bausch subverts the simplistic Western, but because while he does so, he includes several remarkable female characters you’ll keep thinking about long after you’ve turned the last page. Bobby Hale, whose Union Army career is somewhat checkered, heads west to escape war’s trouble and strife–but he finds plenty more of it the further he travels.

I want to tell you more, but I don’t want to deprive you of a single moment of this large-hearted novel that manages to be at once an adventure tale, a love story, a battle account, and an elegy for a world gone by. Even if you guess the kicker (it’s historical, and a big one), you’ll never guess Bobby Hale’s perspective on it, and that scene alone is worth the price of admission. In other words, you’ll get several times your money’s worth in reading “Far As the Eye Can See,” a masterfully written and plotted Western that I adored.

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