Wednesday, October 05, 2011


The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, Robert Taylor Lewis, Doubleday & Company, 1958, 535 pp

I really didn't feel the need for another novel about the Gold Rush, but I was surprised and impressed by the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of 1959. It is full of the usual hardships and pitfalls of westward travel in the 1800s: Indians, lawless villains, weather and death. Unique for this sort of tale is the humor.

Jaimie McPheeters is the son of a reluctant medical doctor from Louisville, Kentucky; a man who would rather gamble and dream of great adventures. The story is told from Jaimie's 14 year old point of view interspersed with his father's bombastic letters back to his wife. Between the two voices you get a full picture of their adventures. Jaimie, in his impulsive youthful way, lands himself in trouble and danger over and over. He is a gambler with his own person. But he has no illusions about his father and as he matures he finds it ever more difficult to maintain his belief in the man.

When they finally reach the gold fields they experience the disillusionment you know is coming and go through even harder times. Since they made a group of true friends during their trek, something like a community keeps Jaimie afloat as his father loses the battle with his addictions. The characters in this novel are wonderful.

In the end I felt enriched for having made my way through what amounts to a reading journey. I came to see that some events in history are so vast, so varied, that it takes hundreds of stories to fully cover them.

(The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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