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

28 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.

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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 (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,950,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Susan C. Tekulve on June 27, 2009
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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bobby D. on February 18, 2012
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).
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By K. A. Edwards on May 27, 2009
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Fierce Red Pen on April 3, 2010
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David on March 11, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've read my fair share of western literature, and am constantly on the prowl for a new novel that could come close to Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, or Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. Cormac McCarthy'esque prose underpins Olmstead's writing in Far Bright Star, yet, unlike with McCarthy, you're left wishing you had felt more.
While a good, serious piece of Western literature ought to be gritty and real, I think Olmstead has taken this task so seriously that he has left his characters void of any redemption, and failed to present to us an evil that we can truly fear. Olmstead's short novel drags us through moments of extreme violence without offering anythign more. While the "Far bright Star" motif does serve to suggest the protaganist's distance from humanity, there is nothing about him or any part of his journey that justifies "brightness" or redemption.
While violence as art plays an important role in much contemporary Western fiction, Cormac McCarthy manages to couple it with enough existential discussion that we are left for days thinking about how we fit in to what we have just read. No sooner had I read this, did I begin to forget about it's protaganist, its villains or its plot.
If you enjoy McCarthy, you won't be hugely dissapointed with Olmstead, but you'll find yourself wishing for a little more substance
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