Ron Hansen · 320 pages
Rating: (2.1K votes)
“So it went. Bob was increasingly cynical, leery, uneasy; Jesse was increasingly cavalier, merry, moody, fey, unpredictable. If his gross anatomy suggested a strong smith in his twenties, his actual physical constitution was that of a man who was incrementally dying. He was sick with rheums and aches and lung congestions, he tilted against chairs and counters and walls, in cold weather he limped with a cane. He coughed incessantly when lying down, his clever mind was often in conflict, insomnia stained his eye sockets like soot, he seemed in a state of mourning. He counteracted the smell of neglected teeth with licorice and candies, he browned his graying hair with dye, he camouflaged his depressions and derangements with masquerades of extreme cordiality, courtesy, and good will toward others.”
“For the man was canny, he was intuitive, he anticipated everything. He continually looked over his shoulders, he looked into the background with mirrors, he locked his sleeping room at night, he could pick out a whisper in the wind, he could register the slightest added value a man put into his words, he could probably read the faltering and perfidy in Bob's face. He once numbered the spades on a playing card that skittered across the street a city block away; he licked his daughter's cut finger and there wasn't even a scar the next day; he wrestled with his son and the two Fords at once one afternoon and rarely even tilted - it was like grappling with a tree. When Jesse predicted rain, it rained; when he encouraged plants, they grew; when he scorned animals, they retreated; whomever he wanted to stir, he astonished.”
“Do you know what it is you're most afraid of?"
"I'm afraid of being forgotten," Bob said, and having admitted that, wondered if it was true. He said, "I'm afraid I'll end up living a life like everyone else's and me being Bob Ford won't matter one way or the other.”
“He said, "He was bigger than you can imagine, and he couldn't get enough to eat. He was hungry all the time. He ate all the food in the dining room and then he ate all the plates and the glasses and the light off the candles; he ate all the air in your lungs and the thoughts right out of your mind. You'd go to him, wanting to be with him, wanting to be like him, and you'd always come away missing something." Bob looked at the girl with anger and of course she was looking peculiarly at him. He said, "So now you know why I shot him.”
“You hear people mention being in love. It's like a sickness I've never had.”
“Charley looked over at him. "About how much you and Jesse have in common."
Jesse said, "Why don't you tell it, Bob; if you remember."
Bob inched forward in his chair. "Well, if you'll pardon my saying so, it is interesting, the many ways you and I overlap and whatnot. You begin with my daddy, J.T. Ford. J stands for James! And T is Thomas, meaning 'twin.' Your daddy was a pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church; my daddy was part-time pastor of a church at Excelsior Springs. You're the youngest of the three James boys; I'm the youngest of the five Ford boys. You had twins as sons, I had twins as sisters. Frank is four and a half years older than you, which incidentally is the difference between Charley and me, the two outlaws in the Ford clan. Between us is another brother, Wilbur here (with six letters in his name); between Frank and you was a brother, Robert, also with six letters. Robert died in infancy, as most everyone knows, and he was named after your father, Robert, who was remembered by your brother's first-born, another Robert. Robert, of course, is my Christian name. My uncle, Robert Austin Ford, has a son named Jesse James Ford. You have blue eyes; I have blue eyes. You're five feet eight inches tall; I'm five feet eight inches tall. We're both hot-tempered and impulsive and devil-may-care. Smith and Wesson is our preferred make of revolver. There's the same number of letters and syllables in our names; I mean, Jesse James and Robert Ford. Oh me, I must've had a list as long as your nightshirt when I was twelve, but I lost some curiosities over the years.”
“They weren't penitent over what they'd attempted; their sorrow reached to the limits of their bodies and no further, all their anguish was in their skin.”
“Graham and the undertaker's assistants strapped the body to a wide board with a rope that crossed under his right shoulder and again over his groin, then they tilted the man until he was nearly vertical and let the camera lens accept the scene for a minute. The man's eyes were shut, the skin around them was slightly green, and the sockets themselves seemed so cavernous that photographic copies were later repainted with two blue eyes looking serenely at some vista in the middle distance. Likewise missing in the keepsake photographs was the mean contusion over his left eyebrow that wound convince some reporters that it was the gunshot's exit wound and others that it showed the incidence of Bob Ford's smashing the stricken man with a timber. The body's cheeks and chest and belly were somewhat inflated with preservatives, necessitating the removal of the man's thirty-two-inch brown leather belt, and making his weight seem closer to one hundred eighty-five pounds than the one hundred sixty it was. His height was misjudged by four inches, being recorded as six feet or more by those who wrote about him.”
“but nothing upset and preoccupied him like the phrase whatever they dread most, that will happen. It seemed more than a simple curse; there was the ring of something presaging and prophetic about it, it was the sort of thing Jesse would say.”
“He had given work to a nightwalker named Dorothy Evans and gradually became beguiled by her. She was a plump, pretty, cattleman's daughter, pale as a cameo, with the sort of overripe body that always seems four months pregnant. Her long brown hair was braided into figure eights and pinned up over her ears in the English country-girl style. Grim experience was in her eyes, many years of pouting shaped her lips, but everything else about her expression seemed to evince an appealing cupidity, as if she could accept anything as long as it was pleasing.”
“No one talked as Jesse moved - it was as if his acts were miracles of invention wonderous to behold.”
“Bob was not yet twenty, after all, while Jesse was thirty-four and in physical decline; each calendar week subtracted from Jesse the powers that Bob accrued.”
“Bob slid his chair back and moved the coal-oil lamp from the kitchen to the sitting room. He said, "Oftentimes things seem impossible up until they're attempted." Then he lidded the chimney glass with his palm and suffocated the light.”
“Then the night lessened, the clouds ashened slightly, and the men became starkly black and brown against the gray of the snow.”
“He was increasingly irritable and suspicious, and a cantankerous mood could fly over him as quickly as the shadow of a bird. But Jesse was neither close-mouthed nor sulky for long, and over the weeks that he and Charley were on the road, he unscrolled yarns and anecdotes that excited interest in Charley only insofar as they permitted him a corresponding reminiscence.”
“Charley's consumption and indigestion had only become more lacerating; his eye sockets were as deep and dark as fistholes in the snow, his gums were strangely purple, he wore extravagant gold rings on every finger and a clove of garlic around his neck according to the guidance of a gypsy named Madame Africa. Bob was skinny, sallow, peevish, his complexion spoiled with so many pimples that some correspondents thought it was measles.”
“Size me up and get goosebumps, boys. I’m the widowmaker and the slayer of jungles, the mean-eyed harbinger of desolation! I’ve ripped a catamount asunder and sprinkled his fragments in my stew; one screech from me makes vultures fly, one glance puts blisters on grizzly bears, devastation rides on my every breath! Where is that stately stag to stamp his hoof or rap his antlers to these proclamations! Where is the mangy lion what will lick the salt off my name!”
“A man of principles," Jesse said.
"People say that about themselves when really they only want to make you unhappy.”
“Jesse said, "You know what we are, Tim? We're nighthawks. We're the ones who go out at night and guard everything so people can sleep in peace. We've got our eyes peeled; no one's going to slip anything past us.”
“Inside, cooking smells maneuvered through the house: cow liver, sweet potatoes, stewed onions, cabbage - scents that were as assertive as colors.”
“Tim collected his gifts within the metal hoop and then pestered Santa for more, investigating pockets, sticking his hands into straw, lifting the sides of the red coat until he contacted a Smith and
Wesson revolver. The boy snatched his hand back as if it were burnt and scowled at the man in the red suit. "You're not Santa Claus; you're Daddy."
Charley called across the room, "He's one of Santa's helpers!"
Jesse sat low in the chair with his boots kicked out, drew off the soft red cap by its cotton ball, then reached out and snuggled Tim close to his chest. He said, "Let me tell you a secret, son: there's always a mean old wolf in Grandma's bed, and a worm inside the apple. There's always a daddy inside the Santa suit. It's a world of trickery.”
“Jesse rounded forward under the towel and cozied his feet in the bath water. It was as if no one else were around and Jesse was once again alone and at ease with his meditations. He said, "I can't figure it out: do you want to be like me, or do you want to be me?”
“Craig inscribed something in the journal and Bob walked over to study the entry. "Does the name Bob Ford mean anything to you?
Craig dipped his quill in the ink bottle and scripted cursively on a brown blotter. "Is that your actual name or your alias?"
"Actual," said Bob, and he grinned with delight when he saw the name recorded in Craig's elegant calligraphy. "Pretty soon all of America will know who Bob Ford is.”
“Her ravings were so crowded with recriminations and insults and petitions, with weeping and caterwauling and wild expressions of love, that it seemed bewildering to Bob and Charley that Jesse remained there for minutes, let alone hours; yet he did. She was four inches taller than Jesse, a giant of a woman, but she made him seem even smaller, made him seem stooped and spiritless. She made him kiss her on the mouth like a lover and rub her neck and temples with myrtleberry oil as he avowed his affection for her and confessed his frailties and shortcomings.”
“Jesse swiveled a little in his saddle to see Charley plodding his mare along to the right. “You ever consider suicide?”
“Can’t say I have. There was always something else I wanted to do. Or my predicaments changed or I saw hardships from a different slant; you know all what can happen. It never seemed respectable.”
“I’ll tell you one thing that’s certain: you won’t fight dying once you’ve peeked over to the other side; you’ll no more want to go back to your body than you’d want to spoon up your own puke.”
“As Jesse talked the sun down, the hours late, Zerelda smiled and dreamed of him as he had been and was and would be. It seemed everything about him was dynamic and masculine and romantic ; he was more vital even in his illness than any man she’d ever known.”
“Annie partially convinced Zee that Jesse was a preposterous, irresponsible man, but America seemed spellbound by him. Correspondents sought to locate him, mysteries about the James brothers were considered in editorials, reports of their robberies seemed to be such a national addiction that nickel books were being published in order to offer more imaginative adventures. Insofar as it wasn’t them that the James gang robbed, the public seemed to wish Jesse a prolonged life and great prosperity. He was their champion and their example, the apple of their eyes ; at times it even seemed to Zee that she wasn’t Jesse’s only wife, that America had married him too. And it seemed a joy to many of them when a reinvigorated James gang – without the man’s more prudential older brother – robbed the Chicago and Alton Railroad at Glendale, Missouri, in October 1879.”
“Oh, he was so dashing and romantic and cast-out by the world, I couldn’t help but love him. […] He was a figure out of a girl’s storybook. Gentle, adoring, dangerous, strong. Surely you must have felt the same things. He has a magic about him. He steps straight into your heart.”
“Belief in God is apparently a psychological arti-fact of mammalian reproduction.”
“There are certain narrow, umimaginative, and autocratic old people who seem to call out the most mischievous and sometimes the worst traits in children.”
“I gather," he added, "that you've never had much time to study the classics?"
"That is so."
"Pity. Pity. You've missed a lot. Everyone should be made to study the classics, if I had my way."
Poirot shrugged his shoulders.
"Eh bien, I have got on very well without them."
"Got on! Got on? It's not a question of getting on. That's the wrong view all together. The classics aren't a ladder leading to quick success, like a modern correspondence course! It's not a man's working hours that are important--it's his leisure hours. That's the mistake we all make. Take yourself now, you're getting on, you'll be wanting to get out of things, to take things easy--what are you going to do then with your leisure hours?”
“ISABEL: Sorry I missed my session Monday.
DR. RUSH: Would you like to tell me why?
ISABEL: I was depressed.
DR. RUSH: That's a good reason to come to therapy.”
“If people really grew up, there would be no crime, no divorce, no Civil War reenactors....it's not like you think it will be, that one day you'll wake up and realize that you've got things figured out. You never figure it out. Ever." - Isabel Spellman attempting to explain growing up to her sister Rae”
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