I've been reading Heart of the Country by Greg Matthews, author of The Further Adventures of Huck Finn where he "Magically captures Twain's world of comedy, satire and adventure." In this long book of 532 pages, Mr. Matthews tells the story of a young half-breed hunchback who was found on the church steps by a Doctor Cobden as a baby. The good Doctor names him Joseph Cobden and their relationship is antagonistic from the beginning, at least it wasn't a very close and loving type relationship. Young Joe turns into a teenager and takes off for the West in search of a better life. Self-schooled for the most part because of the harrassment of the other kids, he doesn't attend much school but reads every book in the Cobden household and is no dummy.
Young Joe struggles around St. Louis to make a living and then gets the job as a bouncer in a house of ill-repute where he becomes friends with a black man living in the basement and whose sister is one of the working girls. Joe gives up on this job after a while and the black man's sister is killed by a nut. Joe hooks up with a buffalo hunter and shoots buffalo for their furs for a couple of years and becomes almost famous for his sharpshooting and makes a lot of money. All the animals are killed, it seems, and Joe starts hunting the bones of the carcasses left on the prairie to sell since there is a market for them.
As I plowed through the first half or so of the book, I realized that all the main characters are misfits of one sort or another, including the misshapen Joe, struggling through their crazy lives with their odd dreams and desires. Take, for instance, the black man and his sister (who is really his wife) in the cathouse. The man was robbed of his manhood by white men for some sleight he had supposedly made, and so he exists in this basement taking care of the furnace and lets his wife earn the money upstairs taking on hard-up white men. And the characters move in and out of Joe's life with all their insane ideas and hopes.
This novel is not your typical shoot 'em up and I think it would fall into a literary western due to its length, style, and subject matter, but as I read along, I find that I enjoy reading about Joe and the misfit characters and find it entertaining. Right now, Joe is living in an idiot's house and raising the idiot's son, because the idiot's wife left him and emptied his bank account of all the stolen money he found while hunting for Joe to kill him. This episode would make a good short story in itself.
What could be next?