Tuesday, March 29, 2016

I Shouldn't Have Worried....

This book has been on my bookshelf for a long, long time. I picked it up at some second-hand store, I think. Since I absolutely loved Hannah Fowler by Janice Holt Giles, I figured I would also love Johnny Osage. The book also had going for it that it is set in an area very close to my home and deals with history that happened just before the history in the novels I've written. That's the reason I had never read the book, though; because the time period and setting were so close to my own work, I was afraid I might subconsciously plagiarize something. Now that my books are all finished, I thought it was probably safe to finally read Johnny Osage.

Well, I shouldn't have worried about plagiarism, because - not to be hurtful or anything - but I didn't like this book well enough to copy anything from it.

I wasn't a big fan of the plot of the book, because it follows the same "revenge" plot that bothered me in this review of another novel. Johnny Fowler is a trader who has a special relationship with the Osage Indians living in what is now northeast Oklahoma but at the time was the brand-new Arkansas Territory. In fact, Johnny had married into the family of one of the top chiefs, the Wolf. But the Osage have an enemy in the Cherokees who have moved into the territory, specifically a man nicknamed the Blade for his murderous ways. We eventually find out the Blade had killed and mutilated Johnny's pregnant young wife. When the Blade strikes again near the end of the novel, Johnny takes it on himself to deal out long-overdue vengeance. As with A Reasonable Doubt, there is no soul-searching about Johnny's decision to search out and kill the Blade; in fact, he's disgusted with himself that he had waited so long that another young girl died at the Blade's hand. Granted, the Blade is a horrible person, but I would have felt better about Johnny as a character if he had seemed to have even a single moment of remorse over what he did.

But he didn't. And actually, Giles made things even worse, in my view, by how she handled the end of the book. Johnny has fallen in love with and plans to marry Judith, a missionary at the Presbyterian mission to the Osage. When Judith figures out that Johnny is going to go after the Blade, she tells him she can't marry a murderer, and their romance appears to be over, since Johnny walks out on Judith to go find the Blade for a fight to the death. However, once Johnny has dealt out his revenge and is recuperating from his wounds in the Osage village, Judith comes back to him and puts aside her own opinions so she can have Johnny.
"She would have had him innocent and molded in her own instincts, but that not being possible she would have him on his own terms...In the event, she examined her love and found it whole enough to withstand the partition of herself."
I don't know why that bothered me so much. I mean, I've read other stories in which a character has to give up something of him/herself for love. I understand that love usually means a person is going to have to change in some ways, perhaps important ways. I guess the issue here was that what Judith gave up was a really fundamental part of herself. And it also bothered me that the "giving up" was all one-way - coming from Judith. Not only does Judith have to compromise her ethics to accept that her future husband committed a murder of vengeance, she also had to leave the mission to go live in the relatively immoral trading village because that's where Johnny lived, and Johnny wasn't going to move. Johnny doesn't seem to have to give up anything, and that annoyed me. In fact, I can't really identify any significant way in which Johnny changed and grew as a character except that he is finally free of his angsty "guilt" once he's killed the Blade.

I might have been able to accept the plot as the author's choice (as I did with A Reasonable Doubt) if the writing had been better. But there were some serious info-dumps in the book, especially early on. It just wasn't much fun to read. Johnny Osage was as successful in killing my interest in this book as he was in exacting his revenge on the Blade.