The Legend of Colton Bryant II
Bill Long 12/15/10
Probing the Language
p. 51. She describes Colton's eyes this way: "Eyes so unnaturally blue that they went straight through you and came out the other side knowing more than when they went in." Wow. We have seen descriptions of "penetrating" eyes, or blue eyes "as deep as the ocean," or "eyes that know" or something like this, but here the eyes move and bore and learn and dissect.
p. 58. After Colton has climbed a nearby hill apart from his friends, he is described as follows: "he made it to the top of the world and now he's just an apostrophe against the sky." Speaking of punctuation marks, a friend of mine told me the story of her (famous) professor, Dr. Stephen Greenblatt of UC Berkeley, memorably describing the difference between Francis Bacon and William Shakespeare. If they both saw a bow-legged man walking toward them, Greenblatt said, Bacon would intone, "Here cometh a bow-legged man," while Shakespeare would say, "Hark, here cometh a man with legs as parentheses." I wonder if we could do something with octothorpes, dieses or commas. Indeed, as I recall, when Fuller describes Colton, having fallen nearly to his death, she talks about him not as a crumpled figure or some other familiar word, but as someone curled like a comma.
p. 67. When Colton arrives at a house, the cats scatter--a "knot of cats untangled off the wood pile." We can see them, can't we? In another phrase, she talks about fire not licking at the wood, but fire gripping the wood.
p. 68. "(the scenery) was beautiful and otherworldly and you could see how a place like this might inspire fanatical, half-crazy religion in a person."
You have to understand the WY "tough-guy" or "cowboy" approach to life. Thus, when a guy is going to face something and grit his teeth, he is going to "cowboy up." There isn't much official appreciation of "softer" things of life, like poetry. Thus, one friend tells another that his words were a "whiny-assed, poet-fairy thing to say." Colton is called by a friend a single, double and triple idiot for doing three dumb things. On the loneliness and danger of the place we have "How easy to misplace yourself out here in this high lonely hell in the middle of nowhere," whose "vicious circles (are) closing in on your neck."
When describing a drunk person, Fuller uses these words: he was "drunk in that optimistic, shiny-eyed way you get from drinking weak beer on a hot day" (74).
p. 74. When describing a rodeo, which begins with the Star-Spangled Banner, she describes the result of the singing: "America was born again in all its sentimental, painful bravado." Haven't we all heard the painful, really painful speeches and faltering attempts at singing and playing America's patriotic tunes? We cringe...and we are born again.
So now we are in a rodeo, and she has a memorable line: "WY means big sky bleeding into mountain peaks, mad bulls and flattened cowboys." I have forgotten the name of the rhetorical device where the third member of a triad is dropped in unexpectedly to bring down the house. Speaking of flattened cowboys, she asks the haunting question, "If cowboys are a myth, why is their pain so real?" Pause, think, and remember the question. The bull that they ride, and that threatens their lives is "one ton of hide, hooves, horn and hate." Again, the last word dropped in, this time at the end of an alliterative chain, is powerful.
p. 77. The high plains of WY are described as a "seemingly endless dark swell of silence, like a shipless sea." This notion of the barren swelling hills like ocean waves fills her work, adding a notion of danger, loneliness and eternity to the land.
Love comes in for mention, though not as much as you might imagine. Colton is cutting wood with a very sharp axe and his mind begins to wander to the subject of love. He ends up injuring himself, almost slicing off his foot. The advice given to him afterwards is this: "Next time you think about love make sure you're standing well away from anything sharp" (65).
p. 94. Fuller is merciless in describing the dinginess and depressive quality of some WY towns. She has this to say about Rock Springs. If some towns are like waking up with a beer hangover, "Rock Springs is like waking up after a week-long methamphetamine binge." Why? "It looks like a town thrown together in the throes of a temporary fit of panic."
p. 94. They go over to one of the nameless bars or lounges in the town. It "smells of stale cigarettes, spilled beer on rank carpets, old sweat, deep fried meals." In order to be a great author, it helps if you know the full palate of the senses. Often the sense of smell is the most under-described but, as we live life, the most fully experienced. Smells can trigger memories and emotions, enabling us to retreat to a time in our lives different from today. With these few words, we catch the varied odors of the lounge, the 1950s-style bowling alley, the VFW club in countless Western towns. Human aspirations and sadness pile up on each other.
A few closing quotations will be enough.
p. 105. In describing the WY country again, she says, "How quickly snatched life is out here, like the sky was always too big for the earth in these high, square borders and so it inhales the breath of the living." The sky, apparently, "stopped being able to tell the difference between the wind on a gentle day and a person's exhalation." Finally, in a quotation I can only remember and can't easily find again, when the family goes to the hospital, the mother shusshes the kids with the words, "Shush. People are tryin' to be sick here."
There is more than enough in this book to keep one's interest and engage the heart. She tells us just enough about the oil rig buisness so that we feel we understand its economics and brutal realities--and that we also know the way that profits are, without much thought, put over human lives. A rail costing no more than $2,000 would have prevented a death. But, then again, after the death the liability of the company was only a few thousand more than that--so why take see the need of paying for a fence when the cost of paying for a life is only a little more and it might not happen? Oops. It happened to Colton Bryant. Very, very sad.