News of the World by Paulette Jiles Review

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News of the World by Paulette Jiles
Published March 2016, Read October 2016

Rating: ♥ (of 5)

This book is some of the most cliché nonsense I’ve ever read. Not to mention the borderline racist depictions of American Indians during Reconstruction. To be honest, however, the setting doesn’t matter. It’s the “classic” story of a pathetic old man, haunted by something (in this case, two wars and his wife’s death), who forms a bond with a stray child (a former Indian captive). They travel, with a cliche and much used in other, better novels, moment of bonding and thus, when he finally delivers her to her abusive relatives, he turns around and goes back. Cue the montage of future moments of happiness between them where things are perfect between them and their shared happiness.

The setting (Reconstruction Era Texas) has only a set dressing purpose for this story. It’s so general that it could happen anywhere and be almost exactly the same. Texas politics (perhaps one of the few possibly interesting parts of the historical setting) are dismissed out of hand and have almost no bearing on the plot, besides the illegality of the revolver which does not complicate anything.

It seems bizarre to me that Paulette Jiles would take such a rich moment in history and tell such a trite and pointless story. There is no discussion of any nuanced feelings or events. Everything is black and white, nothing complicated or interesting to shade in the huge shadows the two flat, stock main characters cast. In a brief book, two entire chapters are devoted to one shootout, and another two are devoted to its tired, overused, fairy tale ending.

I am an avid reader of historical fiction. I love it. I gobble up books of all ratings and time periods with gusto, but the second half of the 19th century in America is my favorite. I’ve read book after book taking place during these formative years. Some I’ve loved, some I never finished, some were just okay. No book has exhausted me like this one (and not in a good way). Quite a feat, considering it is a book a mere 224 pages long.

If you are looking for easy, boring, thoughtless reading, by all means, read away. But if you are at all like me, and enjoy historical fiction that delves into the depth and breadth of its setting, creating characters that aren’t mere rip offs of narratives written more than 150 years ago, don’t waste your time or money on this book.

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3 comments

  1. I am currently listening to this book and am having a very different reading experience than yours. I find Jiles’ prose to be exquisitely beautiful – come to find out, she is firstly a poet and secondly a novelist. I can kind of understand your sense of cliché, although the circumstances are fairly well documented historically – see “The Searchers” and the real-life story of the capture of Cynthia Ann Parker by Comanche Indians. But that’s why there are so many books out there – luckily, if one doesn’t work for you, there’s always something else to read.

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    • I’ve read several captivity narratives (my primary field of study in college was American Indian history), and I still found her portrayal rather trite. Perhaps because of my intensive studying, I can’t enjoy books that have American Indians in them, since I’m always seeking to find a flaw in their portrayal. I absolutely understand the appeal of Paulette Jiles and found her book The Color of Lightening to be absolutely stunning. This book just did not resonate with me. I’m glad you’re enjoying it, though! I listened to it as an audiobook as well. I think it’s the narrator’s impersonation of the little girl that made me grit my teeth the most.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I get what you’re saying – the “pidgin” Kiowa/German/English is a bit odd. “Kiptin”. I just finished the book this afternoon. I plan to follow up with The Color of Lightning based on your recommendation.

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