Saturday, January 17, 2009

Review: Etta

Summary: Beautiful, elusive, and refined, Etta Place captivated the nation at the turn of the last century as she dodged the law with the Wild Bunch, led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Her true identity and fate have remained a mystery that has tantalized historians for decades. Now, for the first time, Gerald Kolpan envisions this remarkable woman’s life in a stunning debut novel.

Kolpan imagines that Etta Place was born Lorinda Jameson, the daughter of a prominent financier, who becomes known as the loveliest of the city’s debutantes when she makes her entrance into Philadelphia society. Though her position in life is already assured, her true calling is on horseback. She can ride as well as any man and handle a rifle even better. But when a tragedy leads to a dramatic reversal of fortune, Lorinda is left orphaned, penniless, homeless, and pursued by the ruthless Black Hand mafia.

Rechristened “Etta Place” to ensure her safety, the young woman travels to the farthest reaches of civilization, working as a “Harvey Girl” waitress in Grand Junction, Colorado. There, fate intervenes once more and she again finds herself on the run from the ruthless Pinkerton Detective Agency. But this time she has company. She soon finds herself at the legendary hideout at Hole-in-the-Wall, Wyoming, where she meets the charismatic Butch Cassidy and the handsome, troubled Harry Longbaugh, a.k.a. the Sundance Kid. Through a series of holdups and heists, Etta and Harry begin an epic and ultimately tragic romance, which will be the greatest of Etta’s life. Then, when Etta meets the young and idealistic Eleanor Roosevelt, her life is changed forever.

Blending a compelling love story, high adventure, and thrilling historical drama, Etta is an electrifying novel. With a sweeping 1900s setting, colorful storytelling, and larger-than-life characters, Etta is debut that is both captivating and unforgettable. -- Ballantine Books

When I first saw ETTA by Gerald Kolpan listed on the Library Thing Early Reviewers December batch of books, I decided to sign up for it. I'm not exactly sure why because I've never been a big fan of books (or movies) about the Wild West, but something about this book intrigued me. I'm guessing that it was most likely because the perspective of this novel was so unique -- it told the story of a woman living in the Wild West who was part of the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid gang (better known as the Wild Bunch.) Needless to say, I was very excited when I saw that I was selected to review an ARC of this novel.

Prior to reading this book, I knew absolutely nothing about Etta Place. In fact, I have not even seen the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (although I have now saved it on my TiVo.) I guess I wasn't at that much of a disadvantage though, because there is actually very little known about Etta Place. I can't decide if this lack of knowledge made Mr. Kolpan's job easier or more difficult when writing this novel; but either way, I thought he did an amazing job. I was so impressed with how he took the few facts known about her life and wove them it into a very entertaining story. In fact, I found the author's note and the Q&A in the back of the book to be fascinating. His development of Etta's characters and her life events were all very well thought out and actually seemed to me as if they could have happened -- I found the flow between the real events and the "made-up" ones to be seamless.

Even though I wouldn't consider myself a huge fan of western fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The book was extremely entertaining and moved at a very fast pace. I thought the story that Mr. Kolpan created for Etta's early life made a great deal of sense and definitely contributed to the woman she became. I also thought the book was very well written. Not only was the story well-told, but Mr. Kolpan's writing style was wonderful. I appreciated all of his descriptions; and I loved how he told the story through a variety of methods including journal entries, letters, and newspaper accounts.

ETTA will be available on March 24, 2009, and I highly recommend adding it to your book wishlist. I wasn't able to find any discussion questions at this time, but don't let that stop you from considering this novel for a future book club meeting -- I'm sure there will be a readers' guide soon. There are a great many issues and themes to discuss; and I think it would be very interesting to hear what my friends have to say about her life.

Thanks again to Library Thing Early Reviewers Program for allowing me to read this novel.


bermudaonion said...

I'm glad to see you liked it because it's buried in my stacks.

Anna said...

I've been seeing this title everywhere, and now I know what the book is about. Great review.

Diary of an Eccentric