Monday, March 30, 2009

Etta--Gerald Kolpan (book review with My Friend Amy)

My Friend Amy and I sat down together, 800 miles apart, for a chat about Gerald Kolpan's Etta. Etta Place was a real woman who was involved with The Sundance Kid of Butch Cassidy's gang, and this book is based on Kolpan's imagination running away with the facts that are known about that historical figure. Amy and I both liked the book, but we had a lot to say about the format and style of it.

Amy: So.....what did you think of Etta?

Ali: Overall, I liked it. But I have to say, I was a little put off by the interview at the back of the ARC that said he'd made a bunch of stuff up to make it a better story. It was an odd mix of historical fiction with real people as characters, and just plain fiction.

Amy: True. I guess I'm okay with them making stuff up, though some of it was pretty far out when she pretended to be Annie Oakley...wait, is that too spoiler-y?

Ali: I don't think that's too spoiler-y. That's exactly the type of thing I mean. Or, her relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt. I could never tell what was real and what was made up.

Amy: Yeah. What did you think of the format of the book? Articles, telegrams, diary entries, etc.?

Ali: Normally, I love that, and in some instances I did. Some of the newspaper articles were distracting to me, though. I couldn't quite tell why they were there.

Amy: I have to admit, it was really obvious that this was written by a man!

Amy: I never felt like we got really deep into Etta's point of view...did you?

Ali: The diary entries didn't read like a woman's diary.

Ali: No, I always felt like she was distant--even in the diary entries, which were in first person so should have been closer.

Amy: That's exactly how I felt! I was wondering...(sorry I'm all over the place) this was recommended to me several times for my try-something-new mini challenge in which I committed to reading a Western. Have you read any other westerns? Is this how most Westerns read?

Ali: I have to admit, I have never read a western, or had any desire to! But this book got me curious about that era, more so than I had been.

Ali: Not that "western" is an era--but that time and setting, I mean.

Amy: It's kind of an era. :)

Ali: So, that's my main praise of the book--it definitely piqued my interest!

Amy: It was fun in many ways and Etta was very likeable I thought...the way she rescued Little Snake and such.

Ali: I thought the Sundance Kid was likeable as well. Actually, Butch Cassidy kind of was, too.

Amy: Yes, I thought so too!

Ali: Another thing I liked about the book was that, even though Etta did some crazy things I would never even consider doing, her character was always believable to me. Like, I "got" why she got involved in the Hole-in-the-wall gang.

Amy: Yeah, that's a good point. I thought that the dime store novel story was really funny.

Ali: Gosh, I kind of skimmed that. I was ready to plow through to the end by that point.

Amy: LOL! I just thought it was funny because people wanted to like her, so they painted her circumstances as being very sympathetic.

Ali: I liked the way she never was quite what people expected. She was so high-class, and then did things that didn't quite fit that persona.

Ali: So, who would you recommend this to?

Amy: Hmmm...anyone with an interest in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or that era. I wanted to read this book because I hoped to learn more about them. I did, but I don't feel like I was ever fully transported to that time like some historical fiction can do.

Ali: I didn't either. And because so much of it was made up, I didn't feel like I could "trust" the author to teach me more about the history--which is another thing I enjoy about historical fiction.

Amy: Also, I guess anyone who likes to read about mob chases might be interested. I got a little bit confused by all of that.

Ali: Oh, true! Funny, I went from Etta to The Girl She Used to Be. I hadn't even made the connection that they are both about women running from the mob!

Amy: Ha! Are you enjoying The Girl She Used to Be? I started that but haven't finished it yet.

Ali: I'm loving it, actually.

(But that's another review...) It was so much fun to chat about this book, and easy to do with gmail. I'd love to do it again, so if anyone's interested in a book chat, let me know and we'll see what we have in common on our TBR pile!

The soundtrack
(in my sidebar--anyone know who the singer is? I'd like to credit her):Lyrics from the song Hard Times Come Again No More appear in the middle of the book, and again as the final words. This song was all the rage during the Civil War era and was written in 1854 by chart-buster Stephen Foster, who's also known for such popular songs as Oh Susannah and Camptown Races. Now, this guy had staying power! Think folks'll be singing YMCA around the campfire in 120 years?

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