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The Collected Works of Billy the Kid Paperback – March 19, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 19, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067976786X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679767862
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #319,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Moving and tragic. . . . Ondaatje is a poet and even his prose moves with rhythmic circular precision.” —The New York Times Book ReviewThe Collected Works of Billy the Kid strains one’s powers of description.... Ondaatje’s eye for detail is wonderful and he uses it poetically, with superb restraint.”—Larry McMurtry, The Washington Post Book World“Wonderful.... Ondaatje’s language is clean and energetic, with the pop of bullets. This is literature, art.” —Annie Dillard

From the Inside Flap

From the Booker Prize-winning author of The English Patient comes a visionary novel, a virtuoso synthesis of storytelling, history, and myth, about William Bonney, a.k.a. "Billy the Kid, " a bloodthirsty ogre and outlaw saint. "Ondaatje's language is clean and energetic, with the pop of bullets."--Annie Dillard.

Customer Reviews

Essentially this is historical fiction as poetry.
Matt Beatty
Most memorable, though, are the intensely graphic images that sprout from the page throughout the book.
Gianmarco Manzione
Once I relaxed and allowed the book take me away, I enjoyed it very much.
Mary Chrapliwy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Gianmarco Manzione on April 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
Michael Ondaatje's sprawling sequence of verse interspersed with poetic prose exposes the persona poem as one of poetry's surest paths to honesty. Through unsettlingly precise detail and unsentimental empathy, the character of Billy the Kid is recreated-and revisited-in all its brutality and splendor. Ondaatje's unflinching commitment to honesty yields a persona that is as vibrant and realized as possible, resulting in a series of confessions that range from disturbing to revelatory.

The image, consistently startling, graphic and discomforting, carries the speaker through the entire sequence. Whereas most imagery depends on the eye for effect, Ondaatje utilizes all five senses throughout the book. We taste wine "so fine/it was like drinking ether," we feel Pat Garret's "oiled rifle" against Maxwell's cheek and hear it fire beside his ear, "leaving a powder scar on Maxwell's face that stayed with him all his life." We smell the smoke in Garret's shirt and taste the nicotine in his mouth. At times, the stunned silence of Ondaatje's unremitting narrative conjures a hush so palpable that we can "listen to deep buried veins in our palms." It doesn't take long for The Collected Works of Billy the Kid to immerse the reader in its own unique world, accessible now only through words and photographs.
Most memorable, though, are the intensely graphic images that sprout from the page throughout the book. The chicken digging for a vein in the dying Gregory's neck, the warts in Billy the Kid's throat "breaking through veins like pieces of long glass tubing," the blood caked in Tom O'Folliard's "hair, arms, shoulders, everywhere.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
Michael Ondaatje begins The Collected Works of Billy the Kid with a caption to a blank space; the picture of Billy the Kid described in the caption is not included. This notion of rewriting the Old West, one character at a time, is an important theme in the book. Billy is cast in a new revisionist light, as a poet, lover, and observer, while still maintaining the traditional exterior of a western gunslinger.
Perhaps the most telling piece of the "reinvented" Billy stems from his relationship with Angie, his prostitute-turned-girlfriend that adds a different dimension to the traditional story. Through their relationship, Billy shows a side of himself missing from the history books-a man once seen as the quintessential cowboy is dependent and vulnerable to Angie, in his words, "caught like a butterfly...in her Tuscon room."

It cannot be said, however, that the Billy the Kid in Ondaatje's work is immune to cold-blooded violence. Billy openly writes of graphic and grotesque images, but they are dealt with in such a delicate and poetic manner that Billy's detachment is forgiven. He sees a separation between business and pleasure, and killing is strictly a profession. At the same time, though, he finds a beauty in violence-even violence against himself or Angie-that reinforces his position as a true poet. Even as he removes bullets from Angie's hand after she has been shot-by bullets meant for him-Billy calls the shots "rolled pellet tongues of pigeons," a subtle metaphor for a grizzly situation. Billy is a true warrior, but he has a clear set of priorities and can put his violent world into prospective.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
This early (1970) "novel" by Michael Ondaatje is a collage of poetry, narrative, memoir, photography, journalism, and fiction surrounding Billy the Kid. Ondaatje poeticizes Billy's thoughts, giving us "insight" into the inner man, while, at the same time, creating a kind of suspense about the inevitable outcome. By constantly shifting the narrative focus and point of view from Billy to some of his cohorts, the women who loved them, and the "lawmen" who sought them, Ondaatje avoids the need for transitions which would normally challenge the biographer of a legend. And by allowing time to be circuitous, rather than linear, Ondaatje is able to give flesh and bone to the impressions he creates by enlisting the reader's help in "organizing" his material. In short, this is an impressionistic word-painting which gives freshness and vibrancy to an old saga of the Wild West.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By "moterbreth" on April 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book of poetry is really unlike any other I have ever read (I suppose with my limited experience, that might not be saying much, but bear with me). Rather than dealing with the stereotypical internal issues of the meaning of life and love that characterize many poetic endeavors, Ondaatje takes a character most of us know and then presents him, through various styles of poetry, in the gritty harshness that the subject, Billy the Kid, would require. There are no pulled punches for the sake of beauty, and the poems work all the more effectively because we understand the at-least-partly factual nature of their characters, which are strengthened through periodically injected novel-style passages.
Of course, for the narrative to come off successfully, Ondaatje must be open to take certain liberties with the tale, which he gladly owns up to with the book's opening blank photo of Billy. From that point on, the story is dirty, nasty, cruel, affecting, and powerful. If there's ever been a collection of poems that had the ability to get the "man's man" into the art, this is it.
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The Collected Works of Billy the Kid
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