New Brunswick’s Goose Lane Editions has been branching out to include fiction titles from authors living outside the Atlantic provinces, it seems. The most recent one that I reviewed was Daughters of Silence by Toronto author Rebeccah Fesseha. Like Rum-Drunk Angels, is a novel by a Californian now living in Edmonton, Tyler Enfield. This is his second novel the first being the award-winning Madder Carmine. LRDA is one of those books I find difficult to review, for it is not easily pigeon-holed into any specific category, or genre even. Yes, it is a Western-style novel, taking place in the mid-1880s in Arizona and California. The west is still wild in places, but more settled too and Mr. Enfield shows us both sides as the Blackstone Temple Gang travel from Nowhere, Arizona to Chesterville, California to rob the bank there. But it is more complex than that, with a dash of Homeric Odyssey as Francis makes the year-long round-trip home, questioning what fates await him there.
No Horse Opera
LRDA is also more complex than a simple western outlaw gang horse opera. The prime antagonists, Bob Temple, the older, wiser outlaw and Francis Blackstone, a fourteen-year-old idealistic young man (“He is a boy after all, which makes him something of a god, for he can still make anything in the world happen in his head.”) have their deeper side which gets explored throughout their one-year expedition to the west coast, robbing trains along the way, staying ahead of the law and a rival gang headed up by a vengeful woman (the widow of the former leader). There are time-outs for existential musings, dreams, mystical encounters, an enchanted lamp, lots of dynamite, an orphaned child, and primarily, Francis’ love for the daughter of the Governor for whom he needs money in order to even ask for her hand in marriage. Francis doesn’t even know her name, but it doesn’t matter to him. He knows, just knows, that she is the one for him.The book’s title is a little misleading, for the gang is rarely ever drunk (there was a mushroom incident, once), but when it comes to robbing trains, the public considers them angelic for their good manners and politeness. There is just something about Francis that causes people to like him and be nice to him, willingly handing over all their money and jewels. Their robberies even take on mythical proportions as folks are expectant of seeing the gang at some point in their travels. There is plenty of humour and the whole year-long escapade takes on a dream-like aspect as in the anything-can-happen, even the impossible — which does. (“They were exuberant and naive. They were visionary.”) The reader becomes immersed in the tale, as Alice did in her Wonderland, meeting all sorts of characters, many offering Francis deep psychological advice, such as the owner of an armoury where Francis is looking to exchange his father’s heavy Schofield revolver for something lighter, in this case, a Cooper Pocket Double Action Revolver:
One Such Moment
“I believe you will be happy with this purchase,” says the proprietor.
“I believe I will,” says Francis.
“Shall I box it up, or will the empty holster suffice?”
“I think the holster is begging for it.”
Francis slips the Cooper home and it’s a perfect fit; every joint, every bone in his body, all of it now in proper arrangement.
“If I may be so bold,” says the proprietor.
“You may,” says Francis, retrieving the Cooper from its holster and gazing at it in unabashed admiration. That tickling breeze goes all through his body like never before.
“Then I will speak my mind,” says the proprietor, “the contents of which arise first from my heart. You are a young man. You are daring. You are looking to make your mark and your fortune.”
“Make a girl, actually. But my fortune’s a key step along the way.”
“Well then, many a gentleman has made his fortune on a Cooper. You are now well positioned, shall we say?”
“All right. Your point?”
“It is this. Being young, it may be some years before you realize the windows of fortune do not open or close upon a man’s life according to his desires but something larger.”
“Only in ignorance does man draw this conclusion or that, reducing what’s larger to the designs of personal fancy. Which is to say everything happens for a reason, yes. but only a fool supposes the cause.”
“I’ve learned that one.”
“Then you’re further along than I surmised, I’ll add only this. All moments are not equal. Some are cut from different cloth altogether and have the strength to define a gentleman and his fortune and I believe, young sir, this before us is one such moment.”
“I believe you are right.”
“I feel it in my spine.”
“l do as well.”
“I’ll ask you to remember this shop. My name is Von Stedt. When they ask you later you tell them it was here. It was Von Stedt who sold you the Cooper.”
Francis says he will.
Flipping back through my earmarked pages of LRDA, I realize how many startingly good reading moments such as the above are contained in the 440 pages of this novel. It combines all the best of any adventure story, there’s action, there’s story twists, certainly heaps of clever dialogue and many amiable characters. And of course, a love story. There are a few f-bombs, but otherwise, a reasonable read for a mature teen. Simply put, Like Rum-Drunk Angels is one of the best novels I’ve read so far in 2019/2020. It is added to “The Very Best!” Book Awards‘ 2020 longlist for Best Fiction. 5 stars!
About the author: Tyler Enfield is a writer, photographer, and film director from Edmonton, AB. He is the author of Madder Carmine and three young adult novels, the winner of the High Plains Book Award and a finalist for the Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Award. His film Invisible World, produced by the NFB and co-written with Madeleine Thien, is the winner of three Alberta Screen awards, including best director.
- ISBN-10 : 1773101307
- Paperback : 440 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-1773101309
- Publisher : Goose Lane Editions (March 3 2020)
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