“I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue,” is a quote I saw once. I forget who said it but I took it to heart.
I’m not sure if Tyler Enfield has seen the same quote, but he makes a successful case for that same argument in his new novel, Like Rum Drunk Angels. (The title comes from a line in the book describing the snow-capped Sierra Mountains as viewed from the baking scrubland to the east.)
Add Enfield’s landscape portraiture to his dry, unskippable dialogue, and you’ve got the bones of a Western. Stripped down, the story goes like this: 14-year-old Francis Blackstone falls in love with the governor of Arizona’s daughter. She can’t be with Francis because he has no money.
The solution? Recruit brother Samuel, friend Ned and a middle aged, boozy Gollum-like character named Bob Temple, and become a band of train-robbing outlaws.
The gang sets off from Arizona, getting into some low-stakes mischief, engaging in what Enfield calls “life’s most vibrant and absurd arc: youth.” They learn to shoot pistols and discover the joys of dynamite, useful in their series of train robberies.
A strange series of heists is one of Enfield’s more clever and original subplots. As the dynamite runs low, so do the good times, and the story becomes a more solemn affair through the last quarter. Francis’ journey becomes a solo one with some awful lows.
This transition, from fun to serious, feeling less like a good old “duster” as it comes to a close, is done with such subtlety that it wasn’t until I finished that I realized how well Enfield had pulled off that shift in tone.