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Far Bright Star Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 26, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In his seventh novel, Olmstead (Coal Black Horse) delivers another richly characterized, tightly woven story of nature, inevitability and the human condition. In 1916, the aging Napoleon Childs assembles a cavalry to search for the elusive bandit Pancho Villa in Mexico. The ragtag group includes Napoleon's brother, Xenophon, and America's eager export of losers, deadbeats, cutthroats, dilettantes, and murderers. Riding on horseback for months at a time, Napoleon finds himself and his men always just a few hours behind Villa, whose posse navigates the unforgiving terrain with ease. When a band of marauders descend upon the group, many of Napoleon's men are brutally slaughtered and Napoleon himself is left beaten and emotionally broken. After the attack, Napoleon proclaims to his brother that the person he was died out there. But this revelation doesn't last long, and soon Napoleon sets out on yet another date with destiny on the open plains with his followers. Reminiscent of Kent Haruf, Olmstead's brilliantly expressive, condensed tale of resilience and dusty determination flows with the kind of literary cadence few writers have mastered. (May)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Described by the Dallas Morning News as a "thinking-reader's western," Olmstead's latest novel, which features some characters from Coal Black Horse, is not for the faint of heart. Still, critics were riveted by this gruesome, bloodcurdling, and thoroughly masculine book, where women are virtually nonexistent and war is a constant, prevailing theme. Critics hailed Far Bright Star as a tightly woven tale with terse, dispassionate prose, characteristics that may also be used to describe the laconic Napoleon. Reviewers also compared Olmstead favorably to acclaimed novelist Cormac McCarthy (The Road). Only the Oregonian felt that the novel was "over-written" and "congested" in parts. But overall, Far Bright Star is a masterful, mesmerizing portrait of one man facing oblivion.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 207 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1 edition (May 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565125924
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565125926
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,992,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This beautiful and fearless novel recounts the journey of a seasoned horse soldier, Napoleon Childs, who leads an inexperienced group of cavalrymen on a search for Pancho Villa. Though it is a war story set in 1916, in Mexico, this book ultimately becomes a timeless odyssey that poses complex questions about how a human being recovers his sense of direction, both internal and external, after witnessing senseless acts of brutality that would horrify even the most war torn of veterans. Written in gorgeous, lyrical prose, the narrative becomes most soulful and heart wrenching during Napoleon's return from battle. Stripped of his clothes, his friends and his faith, Napoleon stumbles through the desert and the even starker landscape of his own wounded psyche, trying to recover his inner compass while searching for the physical place he once called home. Reading this book was a bit like reading Camus and Homer at once, though Mr. Olmstead's voice is singular. He is a writer who goes bravely, and refreshingly, into fictional territory that a lesser writer would not attempt to go, providing us with a great novel for our times, one that will appeal to anyone who has ever felt brutalized, alone or lost.
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Format: Paperback
I found myself in the mood for a western so I turned to my book shelf and found a copy of Olmstead's FAR BRIGHT STAR. I had purchased it out of impulse after reading a good review. The story is about two bothers serving in the US Cavalry searching in Mexico for Pancho Villa in 1916. At the end of the book Olmstead has attached short "note from the author" entitled "The Last of the Horse Soldiers". This is a very interesting and well written historical overview which in my view would have made a good introduction to the novel. Olmstead makes the observation that, "This was the last of what they knew and the beginning of what we know today." It was the end of the horse as a tool of war. Like the book, play, and movie the "War Horse" we all have been exposed to recently Olmstead's BRIGHT STAR's characters know nothing but horses. (It is interesting then that Olmstead has the main character Napoleon drive a car at the end of the book.)

The book certainly packs a wallop and I am sure it will linger on with most readers mainly because of its extreme violence. I found Olmstead's writing style using short punchy sentences rather hard to get use to and perhaps a bit pretentious as if trying to combine Cormac McCarthy with Hemmingway. But no doubt the style works if you work at it. I almost gave up after 50 pages as I found those boring, then the next 50 pages I found extremely violent, and then surprised to find last 100 pages have a poetic dream like tone.

I found the subject of the book very similar to one of my favorites from many years ago. It being the 1958 THEY CAME TO CORDURA BY GLENDON SWARTHOUT (which I think is out of print but can be bought via Amazon as an import). Swarthout's book should not to be confused by the Gary Cooper movie which unfortunately changed the ending.
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Format: Hardcover
Far Bright Star is a perfect book. It drags the reader inside often perhaps against her will and washes over and through the senses with Olmstead's lush language. The language is reminescent of Falukner's Absalom, Absalom and readers of contemporary fiction will find that Olmstead's work has kindred spirit with both Cormack McCarthy and Kent Haruf. The story is harsh yet beautiful and gives one a might bit to consider about the place of war in this world and one's relation to the consumption and production of general meaness as well as how redemption might find us all.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This tiny slice of the Mexican-American war leads Olmstead and his ragtag soldiers into an ethical morass that takes you farther into what loyalty means and how a soldier makes his peace with being a warrior than you may want to go. Graphic in Olmstead's intense and lyrical style means you thirst and bleed when his soldiers do. Short and blunt, Oldmstead's world, the Mexican canyons and ridges are the only world until the last scene when we're brought to the inevitable but tragic truth that war is inevitable.
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Format: Paperback
Olmstead is clearly a smart and thoughtful guy. While reading Far Bright Star, I was occasionally stunned by the visceral power of his writing. At times, I would also pause to ponder Olmstead's unusual and original observations about life. But most of the time, I was keenly aware how repetitive and self-conscious his writing is.

A friend once said with good actors, during the performance you are caught up in the story and are unaware of just how good the acting is. I feel the same way about writers. The writer's style is one thing, but that doesn't mean you should be constantly aware of it, or that it should take priority over the story.

To get to my point: Olmstead's style is omnipresent to the point of feeling contrived. It's as if it were written to impress academics and literary critics (which it has), but it unnecessarily draws attention to itself, to the detriment of the story. It's like he has to justify his Guggenheim Fellowship and NEA grant to his academic peers who will surely shoot him down if he doesn't pull critical acclaim out of his hat. Or like he has to outdo Cormac McCarthy to write a literary western that is taken seriously.

I've only read a few westerns (McMurtry, McCarthy, Charles Portis, Pete Dexter, Elmore Leonard, E.L. Doctorow), but I've enjoyed all of them. So I was really looking forward to reading Far Bright Star. But again and again, I found my attention drifting as I read it. I simply found it boring. I knew that if I put it down, I'd never pick it back up. So I forced myself to plow through it. Even then, the most exciting part was knowing that it would soon be over and I could go read something better. That's not really a ringing endorsement, is it?

Olmstead has talent. But he needs to work harder to flesh out his characters and engage his reader, and worry a lot less about impressing his academic peers with his style. There's a good, solid story in here screaming to get out.
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