House of Anansi. Mar. 2020. 400p. ISBN 9781487005993. pap. $18.95. F
DEBUT In a fictionalization of his distant cousin’s life, Dufault tells the tale of Ernest Dufault, a teenage French-Canadian who leaves his family behind to become a cowboy in the American West. Ernest works his way from a cook’s flunky to a cowpuncher, gets caught in a cattle-rustling scheme, is incarcerated for a year, then reinvents himself as Will James, an orphan raised by a part-Canadian fur trapper. Will, a talented artist, draws scenes inspired by his surroundings to calm his mind and buy him some liberties. Eventually, he finds work breaking horses, then suffers a serious injury which lands him in California for recovery, and thus begins the next chapter of his life as an artist and author. To craft this historical portrait—Ernest was widely known to embellish details and lie outright—Dufault consulted letters, court documents, and other primary resources to piece together the truth about his relative’s life.
VERDICT As a Western, there are a few notable missteps here: errors about horse coat coloring, a much-too-long description of cooking gnocchi, and not enough time devoted to actual cow punching or horse breaking. This is best for readers interested in a visceral take on a cowboy reinventing himself.
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