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Desert Reckoning: A Town Sheriff, a Mojave…

Desert Reckoning: A Town Sheriff, a Mojave Hermit, and the Biggest Manhunt…

by Deanne Stillman

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Dear god, the writing in this book is awful. Go over to amazon, use 'look inside' to read the first few pages so as to see Sillman all in purple (with prosaic detailing about the hem), marvel at the brazen display of self-indulgent tosh and then in amazement remind yourself that this passage of utter speculation is the beginning of a non-fiction book. Now click 'surprise me' and, if you're lucky, you may hit upon dictions like 'pirate' for 'outlaw' or the very weird 'creation myth' for 'the early days of [Los Angeles].' Keep a sharp eye out for relapses into the overwritten irrelevancy, like the sentence beginning something like 'Gates grew up in LA, learning its hard streets' and ending in the vein of 'where the hinted whiff of scented jasmine wafts its way down to the mumbling surf.'

Not all the writing is so extravagant as that. Indeed, that tone would be hard to sustain through the endless irrelevancies: there's enough padding here to supply a small country with sofa cushions for years to come. A family meet up at a Big Boy cafe, e.g., and the cafe's sign--sorry, its 'cheerful sentinel', the food ('giant platters of burgers and fries that led to a moment of satisfaction'), the origins of the cafe, the importance of the cafe to families, the deeply-impressed memories of eating in the cafe, and the Scrammy Hammy Meal are all included in a long long paragraph. When crossing the desert musing upon the murder, the author remembers a ring tone she overheard in a shop. And tells us why she does. And so on. And on and on.

The writing is bad in so many ways that what the book needs is a Mark Twain to do a Fenimore Cooper job on it. What the author needs is an injunction against approaching all objects that could conceivably be used as writing implements, including mascara wands and crayons. It should be needless to say that I didn't finish the book.

If you're of a mind to read about manhunts in the desert, try Frank Norris's novel McTeague or Ed Sanders's non-fiction The Family. Norris is no great shakes as a writer but he's a giant compared to Stillman, and Sanders is a poet who in contrast to her has a sense of what words mean, how they should be put together, and what words should remain inside an author's head. Both these writers impart a strong sense of the desert, of its ruggedness and desolation, and of being hunted down there. This book doesn't.
1 vote bluepiano | Dec 29, 2016 |
added by doomjesse | editDenver Post (Jul 8, 2012)
added by doomjesse | editKirkus (Jun 15, 2012)
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Why did a brilliant, self-taught rocket scientist who just wanted to be left alone go off the rails when a cop showed up? What happens to people when the American dream is stripped away? And what is it like for the men who are sworn to protect and serve? Donald Kueck, a desert hermit who loved animals and hated civilization, gunned down beloved deputy sheriff Steven Sorensen when he approached his trailer at high noon on a scorching summer day. As the sound of rifle fire echoed across the Mojave, Kueck took off into the desert he knew so well, kicking off the biggest manhunt in modern California history.… (more)

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