Jack Crabb, supposedly the only white man to survive Custer's Last Stand, first disclosed the brimful and dubious chronicle of his life in Thomas Berger's 1964 charmer, Little Big Man
. There the 111-year-old, a shade of history who strutted unnoticed through the mythic West, recounted his acquaintances with notables such as George Custer and Wild Bill Hickok, as well as his shuttling between the worlds of whites and Indians. In The Return of Little Big Man
, ostensibly a long-lost addendum to these memoirs, we get more of the tale--or more hot air, perhaps. "Just listen to what I tell you, and then check it against the facts if you can," our hero invites.
Return has much in common with its predecessor. Once again, Crabb seems to have known everyone and been nearly everywhere, and his many associates--both notorious and anonymous--reappear as if by miracle. Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Annie Oakley all check in; while Crabb himself wanders the globe as Buffalo Bill Cody's right-hand man, witnesses both Hickok's and Sitting Bull's murders, and crouches behind a wagon during the O.K. Corral shootout. Berger's Twain-esque ruminations lend an air of purposefulness to Crabb's meanderings, a sense that separation is merely provisional, that existence only appears haphazard.
Crabb, however, seems more than occasionally dispirited--friends pass, younger men ascend. Midway through, though, the book gets its real charge, as Crabb confronts a fading world and a future both bright and bewildering. Sustained by an enormous heart, an affinity for exaggeration, and a conscience both weary and sentimental, he acknowledges the best--and worst--in everyone he meets. It's a story you'd like to believe. --Ben Guterson
From Publishers Weekly
Thirty-five years after the hapless, endearing Jack Crabb narrated the early years of his life among the Cheyenne Indians and Wild West ruffians in Berger's Little Big Man the riotous epic continues. Picking up the story after Custer's Last Stand, Crabb (now an improbable 112 years old) is the only white survivor of the Little Big Horn and the only one equipped to straighten out the history books. Through coincidence, design or luck (not all of it good), Jack meets a passel of frontier notables and witnesses many famous events: Wild Bill Hickock's gunslinging stunt at the Deadwood saloon; savage Wyatt Earp's provocation of the slaughter at the O.K. Corral; the tragic 1890 murder of his friend Sitting Bull by reservation police. Jack's on hand in London when the queen emerges from over a quarter century of mourning to see Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. Annie Oakley and Mrs. Libby Custer look lovely from Jack's whiskey-blurred point of view, but in the end he gives his heart to an educated, literary, "modern woman." Bergman's authority as a historian never takes itself too seriously. With masterful use of dialect and utter narrative confidence, he fully inhabits his idiosyncratic hero to create a hilarious and touching classic. Time Warner audio.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.