WETZEL: a sprawling, gritty, inspiring panorama of a frontier icon’s life and times.

Posted: April 18, 2016 in Uncategorized

I have always had a certain fascination with the hardy, tough-as-nails men of days long gone by in America who are known as frontiersmen. These people exude a certain type of self-confidence and utter bravery that is hardly found nowadays. Stories of figures such as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone were somewhat familiar to me from various Internet sources that I have used ever since my childhood awe of Westerns returned with a „vengeance”, so to speak.

Recently, through an epic novel written by author Richard Fleming, I discovered the story of a frontier hero I knew next to nothing about. The man’s name is Lewis Wetzel, and he’s one of the foremost figures of American frontier warfare, about whom Mr. Fleming has written a sprawling epic novel simply titled WETZEL., The views about the novel expressed herein are solely my own.

The first thing I have to notice about this book is its sheer size. It’s 900+pages thick, the size of a dictionary. Now, some of you might find that aspect to be rather off-putting, especially since the novel belongs to the historical fiction genre, but if you’re fascinated with early America and the relationship between settlers and Native-Americans, like I am, this book is going to be a feast for your mind.

The story of Lewis Wetzel is one filled to the brim with everything there is to find within a great story. It’s the ultimate adventure story. It’s got some romance,  fortunately not enough to overdo it. But where this book shines the most is its awesome characterization. It is typical of Westerns and frontier fiction to take sides sometimes. It’s either the settlers or the Native-Americans that are either demonized or over-sanctified to the point of becoming exhausting to the reader. This is among those rare books that don’t have this tendency. It’s an immersive experience, and reading it, one gets the very clear idea that the violence between settlers and Natives went both ways in early America, however much the balance tipped against the Natives one century later. Wetzel himself, by the standards of some people today, would be considered an extremely racist individual. There are a lot of descriptions of him killing “Injuns”, and he makes his view of them very clear on more than a number of occasions, scalping them whenever possible, and growing his hair to spite them(that’s pretty badass). His relationship with his family, from his father John, to his brothers Jacob and George, is fully and believably fleshed out. The Native-American characters of this book are thankfully so much more than a handful of walking stereotypes: they are people with their good and bad sides, given to impulses of violence, indeed, but not simply bloodthirsty savages. The strongest point of the book, in fact, is the overall excellent highlighting of the “otherness” that each side felt towards its opposite. If there is one historical novel that has managed to convince me that men are the byproduct of their era, this doorstopper is it. I also highly appreciated the fact that the author included an “underbook” that helps the reader differentiate fact from fiction. I think more historical fiction authors should consider this idea.

For its impeccable research and its fine characterization, WETZEL gets a well-earned 10 out of 5! Thank you, Mr. Fleming! Fantastic job! And thank you even more for sharing this epic tale with me!

 

 

 

 

 

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