Book Review: Buffalo Gordon on The Plains

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by J. P. Sinclair Lewis

Publication Date: Dec 01, 2003
List Price: $26.95
Format: Hardcover, 496 pages
Classification: Fiction
ISBN13: 9780312873936
Imprint: Forge
Publisher: Macmillan Publishers
Parent Company: Holtzbrinck Publishing Group

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Book Reviewed by Thumper

Reviewed by Thumper

There are times when I get tired of the same ole, same ole in commercial fiction. Every now and then, I need a break from the ghettoized version of the shoot ’em ups.  I also wish the U go girl books would have gotten up and left a long time ago. I am always on the look out for a book that is off the beaten path of commercial fiction. I found it in Buffalo Gordon on the Plains, the second installment of the series by J. P. Sinclair Lewis. Buffalo Gordon on the Plains is the continuing saga of Nate Gordon. The novel is about Nate’s life in the U. S. Army after the Civil War, on the Western range, along with memories of his days of slavery. Buffalo Gordon on the Plains is a literary and historical feast for the eyes. I may have missed Nate Gordon’s initial outing into the literary scene; but after reading Buffalo Gordon on the Plains, I do not plan to miss any others.

Sergeant Major Nate Gordon is leading an exciting life in the U. S. Army. He’s fighting the Indians, and earning more money than most former slaves.  However, Nate is becoming aware of a world that is different from the one he ran away from, yet in many ways exactly the same. Nate Gordon’s life has begun to blossom. He is in love with Cara de Quervo Zarata and plans on living life with Cara by his side. Before that can happen, Nate has battles to fight, circumstances to conquer and experiences to live.

When I began reading Buffalo Gordon on the Plains, I felt as if I was Alice falling through the looking glass into a strange and familiar world of the past. The novel is bursting at the covers with the adventures of being a black soldier in the U. S. Army during and after the Civil War. I could not get enough. I took to Buffalo Gordon on the Plains like an alcoholic to a liquor store. It brought out the little boy in me who loved to watch western movies on Saturday afternoons.

The format of the novel is striking to say the least. The story unfolds on three parallel planes: in the late 1800’s after the Civil War, and Nate Gordon is now Sergeant Major Gordon whose troop is on a winter campaign encountering historical figures like General George Custer and others; second, Nate’s escape to freedom and his friendship with an octoroon gambler named Jean Garcias; and lastly, his encounter with a band of Confederate vigilantes during his early days in the Army during the Civil War. Lewis kept these three storylines straight and bursting with life without confusing me. I found all three storylines equally entrancing and thrilling, each easily capable of becoming novels in their own right. It is best that all three were presented here, intertwined with each other, for they each illustrated different dimensions and color to Nate Gordon’s character. I have seen other authors attempt this method of storytelling and fail miserably. Lewis pulled it off beautifully.

In Nate Gordon, Lewis created the perfect character to build a series on. Nate is the classic hero that will save the damsel in distress, defeat the villains, and play in the dirt with children and puppies. He is also more realistic than other "Dudley Do Right-like" characters, having more layers and texture than any matinee singing cowboy. Nate is not perfect. He has weaknesses, lapses in judgment at times, but Nate is intelligent and has a good heart. I was drawn to him and was immediately in his corner.

The supporting cast of characters is as impressive as Nate Gordon, especially since many of these characters are historical figures. The novel reads like a virtual who’s who of the American west, Wild Bill Hickock, Kit Carson, George Bent, Frank James and others. The inclusion of these people brought a richness and true sense of history to the story, perfectly blurring the line between history and fiction.

Buffalo Gordon on the Plains is a remarkable novel, storytelling at its best. I loved it! Not only is the book an absorbing and enchanting read, it is a wonderful introduction to a series that I am anxiously looking forward to reading.

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