The Winter Family by Clifford Jackman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This review was originally written for the Historical Novel Review.
August Winter is the leader of a hardened band of killers, men he picked up during his service in the Union army and his banditry afterwards. Among them are psychopaths, rapists, an ex-slave, and a tortured Indian. These men terrorize the countryside and urban streets, from Sherman’s March to the Sea, to the brutal streets of Chicago, to the deserts of Arizona and Mexico. Spanning three decades, their story is one of tremendous violence, immorality, and carnage.
Jackman’s writing is mesmerizing, and very well done. He sets you deep in the world of the 1860s through the 1880s – the American West as it was opening up to modernity with the advance of steam engines, railroads, and brutal politics. It isn’t the rosy picture so often depicted in Hollywood, at least from yesteryear. Rather, this is the story of the American West from the perspective of the killers and criminals that were so often at the forefront of civilization’s advance.
To call this novel a dark and gritty Western would be a tremendous understatement. We spend its entirety with the worst of men, and Jackman seems to revel in their cruelty and evil. There’s no redemption, little in the way of justice, and nothing good to hold on to. There’s no silver lining, no ray of hope. Just despair and evil. Though I admire Jackman’s storytelling, I couldn’t stomach the graphic violence and seemingly endless wanton brutality.
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