Blind Rabbit Press, $20.00, ISBN 0-977-76362-5
Historical Fiction, 2006
To the Ends of the Earth is Frances Hunter’s fictionalized account of famed American historical figure Meriwether Lewis’s final days leading up to his death in a room of an inn in the Natchez Trace. This is also the story of his good friend William Clark’s attempts to save Lewis from himself, not that he is successful as this story stays faithful to history despite the creative liberties taken by Ms Hunter.
Now, I am not too familiar with the lives of Lewis and Clark (don’t look at me like that, I have a good excuse – I’m not American) so I’m not the best person to ask if you want to know how much the author has or hasn’t stayed true to history.
What I can tell you is that I find Lewis in this story an interesting flawed character. He has become addicted to the laudanum that he uses to control his malarial fever, he drinks too much, and he is generally very unhappy and restless with his life as the Governor of Louisiana Territory. He doesn’t care who shares his bed and he also commits his signature on a few documents that will later return to haunt him. And yet his friend Clark is so doggedly loyal to Lewis to the point that he defiantly ignores the less-than-heroic aspects of Lewis’s life and how Lewis’s life is fast taking a nosedive. He is the classic enabler to Lewis’ increasing self-destructive tendencies.
When Lewis is summoned to the Federal City to account for some irregularities in his bookkeeping, he finds himself plunged into a journey full of danger and not-so-subtle aspects of nature as metaphors for dramatic things. You see, he is actually the target of a political intrigue and he wants to warn the folks at Federal City about the foul plot while he’s there. The bad guy, of course, will want to make sure that Lewis doesn’t reach Federal City in one piece, so the journey is not going to be a peaceful one. Clark, who I suspect must be in love with Lewis, gives chase after his beloved darling. Clark’s wife Julia also chases after her husband, aided by an earnest soldier, although judging from Clark’s ridiculous and cruel welcome reception when she shows up, I think she’s happier off eloping with the soldier. Poor Julia, she’s married to a man who is obviously besotted with a half-mad drunkard.
To the Ends of the Earth is an impressive example of a well-written and well-edited independent effort. The writing is fluid and very readable, free from amateurish author mistakes. The pacing is fine and there is an excellent build-up of suspense even if Lewis’ fate is pretty much well-known if you have previously read up on him. I find myself wondering why this book isn’t picked up by a bigger publishing house as I turn the pages. Then again, who knows how the publishing industry works, eh?
If I have my way, though, I’d wish that the author has allowed me a little more insight into what is going on inside her characters’ heads. Ms Hunter tends to describe what the characters are feeling and doing instead of showing me what they are thinking. Clark’s treatment of Julia and his slave York, for example, isn’t always rosy, but yet they are inexplicably devoted to him. Likewise, Clark is so doggedly loyal to Lewis when Lewis doesn’t always treat him well either, which leads to my suspicion that poor Clark in this story is actually madly in love with Lewis. I feel sorry for Lewis, in a way. If he has a better friend and confidante than Clark, at least someone who won’t enable Lewis through his dogged devotion to Lewis, that man may be saved from his downward spiral.
This is a very readable and entertaining book. I have little familiarity with Lewis and Clark when I first open the book but I manage to catch up easily because Ms Hunter’s prose is clear, simple yet elegant, and always very readable. If you have a hankering for historical fiction featuring self-destructive men with flaws that the author does not sugarcoat, you may want to take a look at this one.