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review– LIAR’S MOON, New York Times


September 12, 1999

A Long Story.
By Philip Kimball.
Marian Wood/Holt, $23.   

Good Lawsy,” remarks a minor figure in ”Liar’s Moon,” Philip Kimball’s new neo-western. ”It goes to show you. There’s just no way of telling what peculiar twists this old world is going to take.” Or, for that matter, which trail Kimball’s 19th-century story is apt to travel after its mordant beginning, in which two toddlers bounce from a wagon heading west, only to be rounded up and raised by coyotes. Just what happens to little Will and Sojourner, who symbolize the untamable frontier and who crave raw meat and make ”yip-yip yowls” even after they’ve been rescued and civilized years later, is less the focus of the novel than how the awful event devastates their families, especially Will’s older brother, a circuit-riding preacher who loses both his faith and his collar in his desperate search to find him. Kimball, whose first novel was 1984’s ”Harvesting Ballads,” again explores the horizon where the West of myth and the West of reality merge. The cartoonish ending, which features a flatulent Buffalo Bill Cody, among other things, rubs uneasily against gritty descriptions of drowning cowboys and victimized blacks and Indians. This ambitious novel occasionally stumbles on its path, and the use of multiple narrators requires a reader willing to hang tight in the saddle. But Kimball’s bold use of character and language puts a new jingle into the step of an often hoary genre.