A novel of extraordinary cunning and clarity
By Derryll White
Trevanian [Rodney William Whitaker] (1998). Incident at Twenty-Mile.
Trevanian was one of those elusive writers, think J.D. Salinger, who wrote million sellers throughout the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. His writing genres were so diverse that many theorized him to be a collective of several authors. The most appealing rumour was that he was this master craftsman hidden away in The Basque region of France.
Whitaker taught communications at several American universities in Nebraska and Texas, and died in 2005 in England. Across genres, Trevanian was an exceptional writer and storyteller.
‘Incident at Twenty-Mile’ is a novel of extraordinary cunning and clarity. The setting, an old mining town in the western mountains of the U.S., keeps the story simple and raw. There is no need for long reviews of neighbourhood, streetscape and local politics when the broken down buildings serve only to house a collection of the most unforgettable characters a reader might ever meet. The people of Twenty-Mile are few, but each is carved with such clarity that they stand for many – iconic parodies all.
Matthew Dubceck drifts west out of Missouri fleeing untold horror and travail as the son of a drunken loser. He clutches a series of paperback westerns featuring the Ringo Kid and a fantastic homemade shotgun, and stumbles into Twenty-Mile where he begins to create a life as a hardworking, focused young man.
Hamilton Adams Lieder, psychotic killer and delusional patriot, storms the town with two hateful followers who broke out of jail with him. Cutting a swath of sadistic violence, Lieder holds the few inhabitants of Twenty-Mile prisoner, abusing them unmercifully. Truth, justice and the American way are severely challenged, but a hero arises, and then fades.
Trevanian parodies the western novel in such a way that the reader suspends disbelief and follows willingly down very dark alleys and through brilliant parks of love and beauty. If you can find it this is a story worth reading. As a postscript, Don Winslow, who has been reviewed here several times, is taking Trevanian’s central character in the brilliant novel ‘Shibumi’ forward in a new novel titled ‘Satori’.
WRITING PROCESS – Several times while reading Mr. Pedersen’s manuscript my eyes defocused through the page as I envisioned the novel I could connect around these rough recollections, a novel firmly embedded in the conventions of the Western genre, but dealing with wider and more contemporary issues: with the end of a century, the end of an era, the end of a defining, and for American males a limiting, dream… A last Western.
FRIENDS – “There are two things in this life that are easily squandered, and too late regretted: time and friends. The wise man either spends his time well or wastes it gracefully. But he never, never lets a friendship shrivel and die for lack of attention. Friendships are just too precious, too rare, too fragile.”
DYING – “Delanny doesn’t care about people. Dying is a selfish business, Matthew. Ask anyone who’s cared for an aging parent.”
CONSPIRACY – “I saw how International Conspiracy was jealous because America has become the greatest Aryan nation on earth, and so they’ve all gotten together to destroy us, not by facing us on the battlefield! No! They’re too cowardly for that! Instead they’re sending the scum of their gutters and ghettos to weaken our national spirit, to dilute our pure stock with their diseased blood! With every immigrant those countries send, they grow stronger and richer by ridding themselves of their vermin, while we grow weaker and poorer with everyone we take!”
– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them. When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.