Set in the American West post-Civil War Reconstruction and beyond, TRIALS AND TRAILS: Adventures and Unexpected Discoveries of Life, focuses on the partnership between two cowboys: Leroy, an ex-slave, and Johnny B., a Sioux taken in and educated by a white judge after his mother’s murder by soldiers. They team up when Johnny B. helps Leroy with a bull after Leroy’s racist colleagues abandon him. Together, they head north and then west, facing prejudice, hatred, and greed, as they earn each other’s respect through their skills, hard work, and intelligence. Johnny B. learns how to control his anger, letting it out and reining it in when appropriate. Leroy learns to stand up and stand out more, instead of trying to avoid trouble by remaining invisible.
Author Jim Halverson is terrific with sensory detail, creating the taste of trail dust, the feel of the rain, the cry of the cow giving birth. One of the most beautiful sequences in the book is when Leroy and Johnny B. train a group of horses for the saddle. “We like to make horses, not break them.” How they gain the horses’ trust and entice them to accept a saddle is beautiful reading, while at the same time driving the plot and revealing character. A winter spent working on a ranch for a widow named Alice changes all three of them, and binds them together for life. Alice sells her ranch and moves to San Francisco; Leroy and Johnny B. move on through Wyoming and into mining country as they make their way through Nevada and to California.
The book’s episodic structure supports the characters’ growth. The two men bring out the best in each other, while facing down the worst from the world. They mentor some younger men, showing them that a violent past with a violent family doesn’t have to predestine a violent future. The book’s few flaws include too much head-hopping within scenes, which can be jarring; and, sometimes, chunks of narrative telling are interspersed within the dialogue to move along the backstory, instead of integrating it. However, the beauty of the writing and the strength of Leroy, Johnny B., and later Alice far overpower the flaws.
Jim Halverson’s TRIALS AND TRAILS: Adventures and Unexpected Discoveries of Life, is a beautifully written and conceived novel of hope and courage after the devastation of the Civil War that still has resonance and relevance today.
~Eva Schegulla for IndieReader