Before I begin my post on this book, I want to lay the ground work for a future post that will be larger in its scope than this one that deals solely as many other posts do with it’s main thrust only one work, that will chronicle a large swath of the final days of Drew and I’s book hunt which lead us to some of the greatest lengths our book trips have taken us, and the finalization and realization of a year’s worth of questing. But alas, this entry is not that.
First off, I would like to introduce the reading public to a challenge that Drew and I staked together in the reading of this work. Drew and I have decided on a challenge situation that will fuel our desires to read some of the lengthier and less appealing works the list has bestowed upon as such as: Gone with the Wind, Lonesome Dove, and Executioner’s Song. The way we orchestrated this challenge was simple enough, to put the ten least attractive works in our estimation into a hat (Boston Red Sox hat to be precise) and pull at random one of the names and that would have us pitted against each other the task of finishing that book first and the winner go the spoils which at this venture is a Steak Dinner! So we set about picking the book out of a hat, and I had both my brother and sister in law pick out of the same hat, replacing the first drawn name to see if we got the same name picked and the winner of this drawing was in fact, Robert Lewis Taylor’s Travels of Jaimie McPheeters. As fortune would have it, both Meghan and Aaron both drew the same title so it seemed apt to us at the time to say the consensus was selected. The reason McPheeters was entered was partly due to its length and Drew and I’s aversion to Pioneer novels having both a great distaste for Cather’s My Antonia. This is purely a personal preference on both Drew and my part, and wouldn’t like to offend anyone, but it is what it is as they say. So the terms were that we drew the name out before the start of the new year and we were to begin this work on the first of the year. Hoping of course to finish the book at the very latest in a month, the first one completed would win a prize to be determined later, which we decided for better or worse, a steak dinner as many of our respondents said would be apt to apply a pun and say the stakes we were playing for would be steak. So, without further ado, I would like to congratulate Drew Moody on beating me to the finish line in this first of a series of ten challenges that will take place over the course of this year. He finished first with me coming up short only by 10 pages. Over the last two days to keep pace and try to overtake Drew, I read 160 pages a day which is a lot of me, as I worked today from 8 to 3 pm at my newly acquired teaching position.
So to start my reflection on this work. I loved this book. Not from the start, and at times I felt that my attention waned considerably. My life as it was in the beginning of the year and much of last year was in complete upheaval and a great portion of my financial future seemed in dire straits. All of this combined for an amazing year of uncertainty and confusion with adventures aplenty sprinkled throughout. And somewhat this novel reflected all of those times for me over the course of last year. Adrift and untethered would be an accurate description of much of my sentiments throughout the first leg of this journey, and I have joy & woe to reflect upon that has led me to a place of seemingly solid foundations now. I can’t help but feel in a profound way connected this character at a very core level and I am deeply grateful for having been forced to tough through this book. If I weren’t reading this book at a hyper pace and compelled to finish it quickly this is one that I would have definitely walked away from for a time. Not to say that it wasn’t engaging at times, and I was definitely lost in the story a great deal and didn’t want to leave it’s characters for a second. Not often do you as a reader become emotionally invested in a set of characters outcomes. I can say that it is rare having read basically nothing but fiction this entire past year, claiming to be crowning achievements in American fiction in a given year, and not often due you get so attached to a set of characters or circumstances that you literally cannot walk away from a passage, paragraph or chapter to see how at least this minor conflict gets resolved in some satisfactory way.
I will say that in this case, I didn’t want to trust my heart to this author, knowing the novel’s genesis as based in history and real diary entries of the McPheeters clan and knowing the general dismal condition of many of the stories told of this time. But Taylor proves a story teller worth the merit awarded him here. He delivers on his promise, that if you trust him he will lead you to a great place. Though trial and travails abound around every bend of this trail, he brings you forward with clarity of purpose, concise language, and engaging drama that keep you reading possibly skipping a couple of sentence in the hope to reveal Coulter coming over the hills, Jaimie making it back alive, and many other hopes achieved throughout. A glorious read and a treasure of American fiction that illuminate a fascinating time in the American tapestry.