Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd makes a living by travelling through the small towns of Texas, reading newspapers to audiences for a dime a person. It took me a little while to get my head wrapped around this, considering our news-saturated world, but in 1870 many people couldn’t read and those who could often had difficulty getting their hands on a paper. So it makes sense.
Captain Kidd is a great character. At 71, he really is getting too old for this, but that doesn’t stop him from agreeing to take Johanna Leonburger back to her family after she is rescued from the Kiowa raiders who killed her family and kidnapped the girl four years ago. Kidd doesn’t exactly have a destination, so taking a 400-mile detour isn’t that big of a problem. Corrupt officials, road bandits and Indian raiders make the journey a little more interesting, but I get the impression there’s nowhere really safe to travel in Texas.
The bigger problem is that Johanna never wanted to be “rescued” from her new family, isn’t thrilled to be delivered to an aunt and uncle she doesn’t remember, and has forgotten all but a handful of English and German words. Somehow, despite all this, she and Kidd bond beautifully on their journey south.
I’ve never read any of Paulette Jiles’ books before this, so I don’t know if she habitually refuses to use quotation marks, but the dialogue did throw me off for a bit. Usually I absolutely hate when authors do things like this, but the story flowed so smoothly I ended up adjusting to it quickly. There’s an odd style to the story that I don’t know how to describe, except that a bunch of unconnected details somehow weave together to form a coherent picture of Texas. I would not try to write like this, nor would I recommend anyone else attempt it either, but Jiles makes it work.
This book sort of reminded me of A Man Called Ove. Captain Kidd is a likable and admirable character who does what needs done and doesn’t complain about it. His relationship with a bloodthirsty little savage who starts to call him grandfather is absolutely perfect. (I would call it heart-warming, but that doesn’t usually apply in situations where a little girl needs to be told that she can’t scalp people.)
The more I think about this book, the more I like it. Everything about it so understated and subtle that the full power of the story is sort of elusive. The more I try to nail it down, the more it slips through my fingers, but one thing I can state definitely is that this book deserves a full five stars.