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Cottonwood: A Novel Paperback – March 29, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (March 29, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345461010
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345461018
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,241,154 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Western epic, black comedy and soft porn are cleverly spliced in this genre-bending offering from Phillips (The Walkaway; The Ice Harvest), which relates the experiences of Bill Ogden, sometime farmer, sometime saloon-owner, sometime photographer in 1870s Kansas. Ogden, 27, is a self-taught Greek and Latin scholar and a sexual libertine capable of seducing almost any woman he encounters. Estranged from his wife, he never brags about his peccadilloes, although it seems that his devotion to oral sex sets him apart from rivals and makes him the heart's desire of the voracious women who seem to be everywhere on the frontier. The story, such as it is, centers on the arrival of Marc Leval and his lovely wife, Maggie, in the tiny farm community of Cottonwood. Marc capriciously selects Bill as a partner in his scheme to attract Texas drovers to a railhead, while Maggie plays a less-than-discreet game of spider and fly with Bill, the Kansas Casanova. In the meantime, an outlaw family embarks on a crime spree that eventually pits Bill against Marc and sends Bill and Maggie fleeing. Jumping ahead 20 years, Bill's story resumes in San Francisco, where he is making his way as a photographer and sexual athlete. He learns that Maggie, from whom he is long separated, has returned to Cottonwood, so he abandons his life in California and returns, bent on rekindling their love affair. Bill's salaciousness rivals Don Juan's and he is utterly devoid of scruples, but his deadpan humor and cunning indifference to life's vicissitudes keep him likable. Lively pacing and artful prose lend polish to Phillips's cheerfully grotesque chronicle of western antics.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

At first glance, Phillips' third effort seems like quite a departure from his previous noirish crime novels, but it quickly becomes apparent that the author's brand of sly humor and his skilled depictions of nasty human behavior translate well to the historical genre. Set in frontier Kansas, spanning the years 1872 to 1890, the novel tracks the evolution of the young town of Cottonwood, rumored to be a future railroad stop, and its inhabitants, poised to take advantage of the fortunes that will come rolling in on the train tracks. Unfortunately trouble ensues while the residents wait for their ships to come in--most notably, they discover a family of serial killers in their midst (based on a real Kansas family known as the Bloody Benders). Our hero is saloon keeper Bill Ogden, who serves as the town's voice of reason until he takes the wrong married woman to bed. Romance, intrigue, dueling pistols, and a Charles Willeford feel translated to the frontier--a little something for everyone. Carrie Bissey
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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See all 17 customer reviews
It was great fun.
I really like the characters, setting, everything.
Victor Gischler
I look forward to his next one.
Richard Godwin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By chefdevergue VINE VOICE on June 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I am not much of a reader of novels, nor was I particularly familiar with Scott Phillips. I only picked this novel up because I am originally from Labette County and I was interested to see how he would incorporate the actual historical events of the region into his story.

Having finished a book that was very very hard to put down, I find myself anxiously awaiting Phillips' next effort while simultaneously seeking out his previous two novels, which as I understand were set in 20th-century Wichita.

Phillips has a gifted eye for the absurd (which occasionally veers into the realm of the obscene, so be warned) accompanied by a talent for good dialogue. There were several times where I literally had to struggle not laugh out loud (the baby had just fallen asleep, after all), and I often found myself repeatedly reading passages to my wife so that she too could appreciate one ludicrous scene after another. It was great fun.

The novel can get dark at times, and is often downright gruesome, but for the most part it is ribald Western satire featuring a very interesting protagonist & narrator, Bill Ogden, who is wonderfully amoral --- for the most part, until the chips are down --- and irreverent. Circumstances of his own doing (and some beyond his control) come to pass which force Ogden to flee Cottonwood for almost 20 years as a much-maligned individual, until other events come to pass that induce him to return to the scene of the crime (so to speak) and confront his past actions, as well as dispense justice.

Most of Phillips' strengths lay in his skill with dialogue & character development. He does not spend much time describing the countryside as other authors might do.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nell Gato on July 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover
After hearing a reading by Scott Phillips at the Madisonville Community College in April, I immediately wanted more. Quite unfortunately for the reading public, I learned from Scott that the book from which his reading was originally drawn, _Cottonwood_, is currently out of print, but Scott was generous enough to hook me up with a copy. As excellent as the story from the reading was, it didn't even make the cut for inclusion in the final draft of that book. This speaks no discredit to the story, but instead suggests just how engaging and well-constructed the book itself is. There were plenty of other gems to go around, and thankfully that story Scott read is now part of _Hop Alley_, a novel that takes up the same characters and world of Cottonwood and expands on some missing years therein.
_Cottonwood_ follows the story of Bill Ogden, a local saloon owner and burgeoning photographer, as he makes his way in the developing frontier town of Cottonwood, Kansas. We follow Bill through a troubled marriage, a series of titillating romantic relations, business ventures, the discovery of a disturbing crime, each interwoven into a complex fabric of local life and each as carefully recounted and compelling to read as the other, whether it is the drama of murder or the composition of a photograph.
From there, the narrative jumps forward in time and space, following Bill to California and elsewhere, and it is not immediately apparent that both the love and the crime introduced in early years in Cottonwood will end up bringing Bill full circle, concluding his time back in Kansas in a most satisfactory manner.
The style and tone of the book reminded me both of _McCabe and Mrs.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on August 16, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Scott Phillips' first two novels -- quirky, darkly funny crime stories set roughly in the present -- proved that he can write. In Cottonwood, Phillips departed from the conventions of crime fiction to write a quirky, darkly funny western. Crime works its way into the story, but the crime plot is secondary to Phillips' strong characterization.

Cottonwood takes place between 1872 and 1890. Essentially a mixture of a western and a thriller/mystery, Cottonwood tells the story of Bill Ogden, a photographer who comes to the frontier town of Cottonwood, Kansas to homestead a farm with his new Dutch wife and their son. Ogden doesn't take to farming, so he hires a hand to do most of the work while he establishes a saloon and photography studio in the town. The handyman catches the attention of Ogden's wife, a circumstance that would probably be more upsetting to Ogden but for his uncontrolled gift for charming women, married and unmarried alike. Eventually he becomes entangled in a dangerous affair, starts wondering about the mysterious disappearance of visitors to Cottonwood, gets involved in an old-fashioned shootout, and begins a journey that years later brings him back to a very different Cottonwood.

The story works because Ogden is such a strong character. As he struggles to build a life, struggles with romance, struggles with family, and struggles with moral decisions, the novel's fascination comes from watching him confront (or dodge) those challenges. Phillips tells a lively, imaginative story that is enhanced by his incorporation of a family of Kansas killers into the plot that actually existed. As he did in his first two novels, Phillips proved that he can write. This fine effort deserves a wider audience. I would give it 4 1/2 stars if that option were available.
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