Delivering Virtue, by Brian Kendall / **** ½

delivering_virtue1020It’s fairly obvious that Delivering Virtue is inspired by Charles Portis’s superb True Grit (or at least Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, itself heavily inspired by that great book). Both are picaresque Westerns narrated by an overly verbose characters; both follow long journeys across the West; and both are filled with any number of strange and odd encounters along the way. Yes, the particulars are different – the trip here follows our “hero” Rain as he brings a child bride across the great wilderness to meet her husband-to-be, a religious prophet – but there’s no denying the DNA here: the writing populated with rich flourishes, the dry sense of humor, the sense that we’re seeing the West in the days after the fame and fortune had dried up. Luckily for Brian Kendall, his writing is up to the task, creating a rich, entertaining narrator whose running commentary makes the book a blast to read, whether he’s justifying his decision to meet up with a lover (despite being warned not to), befriending his horses, or using farm animals to feed the little girl in a way that probably shouldn’t be encouraged. There are some oddities in Kendall’s book, though, and they both intrigue and frustrate me. Just how old is young Miss Virtue, who starts the book in diapers and ends up speaking in full sentences by the end, after what doesn’t seem like that long of a journey? Why are other people punished every time Rain strays from the directions he’s been given? And what to make of that odd, odd ending? Delivering Virtue feels ultimately incomplete, a parable where the lesson has been omitted, and while I somewhat admire that, giving the whole tale a cryptic feel, I can’t deny that it also left me a bit frustrated, and kept me from loving the book as much as I wish I did. (I feel this most applies to the ending, which left me more baffled than moved.) Nonetheless, it’s a delightfully odd Western, with an off-kilter sensibility that I loved, some bizarre and entertaining adventures along the way, and a great sense of style to the whole thing.


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