Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review of Dead Man's Gun and Other Western Stories by Ed Gorman

Of all the valuable stories in this collection "The Face" alone is worth many times more than the $2.99 you commit to download the book. Many times more. It is a masterpiece of craft, sensibility and sheer artistry. If you are uncomfortable with the image of the revolver pointing out from the cover of "Dead Man's Gun", you may find solace in regarding it as a symbol of the cruel, true and timeless poetry "The Face" will fire into the depths of your heart. For this price, every high school history and English teacher in the country can afford to download it in the classroom, and every high school student should be assigned to read it. There need be no test given afterward. "The Face" will stay with them the rest of their lives, as it will with their teachers and with you, as it will with me. This I can guarantee without fear of contradiction by any who have read this brief, profound, elegant, haunting story, no matter their religion, their politics or their station in life.

I came to "The Face" because I am a longtime admirer of its author, Ed Gorman, a prolific, masterful spinner of tales in almost every genre imaginable. This book contains the first of his western stories I've read, and although westerns are not ordinarily my cup of tea those in "Dead Man's Gun" are no less entertaining and enlightening than his mysteries and political thrillers - my preferred genres. "The Face", in fact, falls outside all three of these categories. It's a story from the American Civil War, as told by a Confederate battlefield surgeon. I'm something of a Civil War buff, having grown up in the Midwest and lived most of my adult life in Virginia. I do not exaggerate when I say "The Face" is the most sublime, horrifying and memorable Civil War story I have read. It may well be the most powerful anti-war story ever published. I would not be at all surprised to learn that many if not most as they read "The Face" will hear in their minds and hearts, as did I, the hallowed strains of that old plantation gospel song, "Down by the Riverside" with its achingly hopeful refrain, "Ain't gonna study war no more." 
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