Review: The Legend of the Apache Kid by Sarah Black

Standard

Rating: 4.75 stars

Dr. Raine Magrath is lazing about in a hotel hot tub when he sees young Apache Johnny Bravo and his grandfather by the side of the pool. Johnny is in town for his first film festival and to meet with a man about the independent film Johnny has made. When Johnny joins Raine in the hot tub, they make an immediate connection with each other and Raine asks Johnny to look him up in Taos if he ever visits.  Then Johnny and his grandfather disappear and it is another year before they meet again.

When Raine walked into The Peaceful Bean to get his morning coffee, he was surprised to see he knows the new guy behind the counter.  It was the Apache film maker he had met a year ago at the film festival.  Johnny Bravo was in Taos and it looked like he now lived here.  Johnny had gone home with his grandfather until the cancer killed him and then went looking for Raine.  The connection they felt at their first meeting is as strong as ever and getting stronger with each passing conversation.  And when Raine takes him home to the family ranch he shares with his father, he semi jokingly introduces Johnny as his new boyfriend, something that  becomes reality.  With the arrival of Johnny’s 8 year old cousin, Weasel, the men start to form a family, cemented by love of the land, history, family, and each other.

But Johnny has another love, film making.  He’s a genius at it and Hollywood is beckoning by the way of the Sundance Festival.  And when he begs Raine not to put any chains on him, Raine knows that for them to succeed, he must be prepared to let Johnny go and chase his dreams.  When Johnny heads off to the Sundance Film Festival, the welcome his film gets is overwhelming with offers to work out in Hollywood.  It’s everything he has dreamed about or is it? With Raine and his family missing him back in Taos, Johnny must decide where his dreams really lie.

OK, right off the start, I will tell you that I want to take a black marker and eradicate that awful blurb for this remarkable book.  Why?  One, Johnny is in no way an “airhead” bur rather someone focused more on the quality of film he makes and less on its marketability.  What a disservice the person who wrote that did to Sarah Black’s characters and this story.  *Shakes head*  Alright.  Rant over, now that I have gotten that off my  chest.  The Legend of the Apache Kid has all the qualities of the best of Sarah Black’s writing.  Her characters of all ages are so well crafted, so beautifully put together that I feel I have run across them in my travels out west for truly Sarah Black has one of the strongest regional voices for our western states that I can remember.

These people rise up from the pages of this book covered in the dust of their ancestors, history percolates through their bloodstream, and who they are is so strongly tied to the land they walk on that they are as much a part of the landscape as the weedy scrub sage, twisted juniper and alligator pine of Carson National Forest.  From their dialog to their rides (either horseback or truck) the characters exude authenticity of  location, the author’s love of the southwestern desert and the native american tribes who belong to it.  Sarah Black knows this land and its people intimately and it translates her love and knowledge into her stories, characters and locales.  If she has an old man talking and walking in her scene, then that character moves and sounds like an old man does. When the bored and sullen Weasel is left by himself for a few precious moments in his first introduction to Raine and Taos, he carves his initials into the shop’s small table because that what small sullen boys with a pocketknife do.  To write like this, your knowledge of people cannot be superficial.  You must have the ability to see beneath the surface, to get under their skin and somehow burrow into peoples thoughts and emotions to bring forth characters as real as these.

Equally remarkable is the dialog and narrative of the story. It is both weighted with emotion and yet as dry as the desert air. It is elegant in that spare western way rarely heard outside the region.  You could give me anonymous samples of writings, and I could pick out Sarah Black’s signature voice in an instant.  Although I dislike taking sentences out of context, this is one such example:

“He leaned forward and kissed me, light as a hummingbird on the side of my mouth. “Later, Raine.” He climbed out of the tub, grabbed his clothes, and pulled the old man’s jacket over his shoulders. The snow was falling on his hair, but he didn’t hurry, just followed the man, wet bare feet on frozen concrete. I closed my eyes so I didn’t have to watch him walk away.”

I put that out there, loving the feeling it evokes within me  and still feel I have not done this author justice because there is so much beauty to be found everywhere within this book.  There is the author’s considerable knowledge of the history and her appreciation for the differing Native American tribes and their cultures. In fact, her love for and curiosity about all cultures comes shining through each and every story.  A particular delight of mine is to see what new element of Americana she will bring into a book.  In Marathon Cowboys, it was bathtub Marys. Really I had no idea. Check them out.  Here it is the green Earthship homes built in communities out west.  Yes, I had to look them up and darn it if I can’t stop thinking about them and the need for green sustainable living ever since.  Sarah Black has given me a real itch to go out west and visit one to see  and experience them for myself.

So why not a 5 star rating?  Well, that would be the ending and really, I need to just give it up when it comes to Sarah Black.  If anyone reading this is already familiar with Sarah Black’s books, then you know what I am talking about.  The ending of the book just comes to a gradual stop.  There is no epilogue, more of a “this is where it needs to end naturally” sort of thing.  It’s not rushed, nor is it drawn out, it just is. In some of her stories it drives me crazy my need to know more is so great, in others it’s just fine because it is in tune with the story and characters.  And truth be told, she is never going to change that, so I just need to let it go.  And yes, it works here, it ends well and brings the story back around full circle. But damn it , I just wanted more. More of these characters, and more of their story and so will you once you read this. It enters your bloodstream as it did mine and won’t let you go. And you will be ok with that.  It’s a Sarah Black story after all.

Cover: Paul Richmond was the cover artist.  The colors he chose are perfect for the story as is the illustration.  The background graphic is the poster for Johnny’s film.

Read my review of Marathon Cowsboys here.

Read my review of Border Roads here.

Read by Author Spotlight on Sarah Black here.