Thursday, August 30, 2012

JULIET IN AUGUST: Wednesday's Western Novel

Juliet In August by Dianne Warren, one of my top five westerns of the year so far, is one of those quiet small town novels where character is more important than plot.  Each chapter might well be a short story, but the stories and characters interconnect and the plot lines converge.  Juliet is a town in Saskatchewan and the events take place in the tail end of August.

My favorite plot line in here is suggested by the picture on the dustjacket, as it involves a stray horse, a runaway on a moonlit night in August from the campground at Ghost Creek.  His history begins in the second chapter and there are interesting revelations as the novel continues.

This fine, low-keyed modern western won the 2010 Governor General's Award, having been previously published in Canada under the title Cool Water.

And, on another note, the earworm of the day is "Ballad of a Runaway Horse," as written by Leonard Cohen and as beautifully sung by Jennifer Warnes.  

Say a prayer for the cowgirl, her horse ran away.
She'll walk till she finds him, her darlin' her stray,
But the river's in flood and the roads are awash
And the bridges break up, in the panic of loss.

And there's nothin' to follow, nowhere to go.
He's gone like the summer, gone like the snow.
And the crickets are breaking her heart with their song.
As the day caves in--and the night is all wrong.

Did she dream it was he who went galloping past,
And bent down the fern, broke open the grass
And printed the mud with the well hammered shoe
That she nailed to his speed--in the dreams of her youth.

And although he goes grazin' a minute away,
She tracks him all night, she tracks him all day.
And she's behind to his presence except to compare
Her injury here with his punishment there..

Then at home on a branch on a high stream
A songbird sings out so suddenly
And the sun is warm and the soft winds ride
On a willow tree by the riverside.

Ah, the world is sweet and the world is wide.
He's there where the light and the darkness divide
And the steam's comin' off him he's huge and he's shy
And he steps on the moon when he paws at the sky.

And he comes to her hand but he's not really tame.
He longs to be lost, she longs for the same
And he'll bolt and he'll plunge through the first open pass
To roll and to feed in the sweet mountain grass.

Or he'll make a break for the high plateau
Where there's nothing above and nothing below.
No need for the whip, no need for the spur.
Will she ride with him or will he ride with her?

So she binds herself to her galloping steed
And he binds himself to the woman in need
And there is no space just left and right
And there is no time but there's day and night.

Then she leans on his neck and whispers low,
Whither thou goest I will go
And they turn as one and the head for the plain
No need for the whip oh no need for the rein.

Now the clasp of this union who fastens it tight,
Who snaps it asunder the very next night?
Some say it's him some say it's her,
Some say love's like smoke:  beyond all repair.

So my darlin', my darlin', just let it go by
That old silhouette on the great western sky
And I'll pick out a tune and they'll move right along
And they're gone like smoke--and they're gone like this song.

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