Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Collected Works of Billy the Kid

by Michael Ondaatje

avant-garde, postmodern, revisionist, a deconstruction, self-conscious and self-aware, prose from another planet, beautifully brutal, the kind of spikey poetry you see in some of the books of Hawke or even some DeLillo (i'm thinking Libra), the kind of book that you read and reread and remember forever. at least this reader did.
all of the above does nothing to sum up the yearning and strangeness and rightness of this underrated modern classic.

The Collected Works of Billy the Kidi mentioned 'poetry' but i am talking about the prose. poetic prose, yes a cliche and yes wonderful when it is done right. and hey, there's actual poetry here too. 'poetry written by Billy the Kid' apparently. obviously not, but this is postmodernism or whatever so does it even matter? the poetry captures the character perfectly. perfect poetry.

Billy the Kid, vicious animal
Pat Garrett, so sane he's insane
Billy the Kid, the mythology removed and built up again

the fragmented, cut-up style is ingenius. historical records, first person accounts, news blurbs, photographs, poetry, pulp fiction... it all comes together to paint a picture of a timeless place populated with timeless characters enacting a timeless dance with fate and death. fate and death, fate and death, fate and death. is this really a Western? i suppose so, but it is so much else as well.

i'm looking through my old photocopy of the novel (thanks, Interlibrary Loan of 20 years ago) and i'm feeling a need to read this a third time. maybe i can then write a better review. oh you beautiful novel, i want to put my hands all over you again.


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