Sunday, June 22, 2008

Deadwood by Pete Dexter

This concludes my reading of the novels of Dexter, a former columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News. I can't believe this is the source of the HBO Series of the same name. If you loved the HBO series, you may not like this novel; if you hated the HBO series for its darkness and constant streams of foul language, you may love this novel. Deadwood took me much longer to read that it should have – I was ambushed by ETS grading (1200 essays in 6-1/2 days) and some minor surgery.

Many of the characters are there – Wild Bill Hickok, Charlie Utter, Calamity Jane Cannary, Seth Bullock, Solomon Star, Al Swearingen – but some of these were so distorted in the series as to be almost unrecognizable. For instance, Swearingen is not nearly the mean, nasty, violent character as that played by Ian McShane, neither was Seth Bullock the upstanding, principled man played by Timothy Olyphant. The preacher was there for Dexter, but in a much reduced role. Charlie, Jane, the theater actors were the same, but I wanted to see more of E.B. Farnum, Joanie, Trixie, and something of Alma Garret and George Hearst who were completely absent from the book.

The bottom line is the book and series were a draw. I think both can be enjoyed, but I wish I had read the book first. The series would have expanded my mental picture of Deadwood in 1876. One character never mentioned in the series (as far as I can remember) was “the bottle fiend.” He was interesting, and added some contrast to the rest of the story.

If you are unfamiliar with Pete Dexter, don’t start with Deadwood. Rather begin with Paris Trout, The Paperboy, God’s Pocket, or his latest, The Train. All his work is well written, loaded with interesting characters, and are all fine reads. Dexter takes me back to my high school days when I read his columns in The Daily News.

--Chiron, 6/22/08

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