Etta by Gerald Kolpan
I am not typically one for reading Westerns. The American West has never held my imagination the way it has for so many people. Still, when Etta was offered as an Early Reader choice on LibraryThing in December, I requested it and was lucky enough to snag it. I don’t think I’ll ever become a regular reader of Westerns, but I’m glad that I had the opportunity to read Gerald Kolpan’s novel.
Etta tells the story of Etta Place, a young woman who grew up in Philadelphia as Lorinda Jameson. Lorinda’s mother died early in her life, leaving her father to raise her. Her father shares his love of horses and guns with her. As a result, she grew up to be an unconventional and spirited young woman. She could charm men with her beauty and dazzle them with her riding and shooting skills. After her father, who was an irresponsible businessman, dies leaving his finances and Lorinda’s life as his only survivor in a precarious position, she becomes the target of the brutal Black Hand. Luckily, her father’s attorney was a kind man who saved her from sure disfigurement or death by changing her identity to Etta Place and getting her a position as a Harvey Girl in Grand Junction, CO.
The West was not Etta’s element, but she accepted her new place in life with grace. Her time in Grand Junction might have gone by without incident if the degenerate son of one of the city’s most prominent families pursues her unsuccessfully to the point of attempted rape. The result of his crime gets Etta in trouble with the law and noticed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Wild Bunch. They break her out of prison, and she is initiated into the gang herself. Etta quickly earns her place as one of the gang’s most infamous members through her superior riding and shooting skills. It was her outspoken disgust at the way in which other women were treated in the gang that earned her the love and respect of Sundance Kid. In doing so, she creates yet another mortal enemy, Kid Curry.
After joining Sundance Kid, Etta comes into contact with several well-known people of her time, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Buffalo Bill Cody. It was in these connections, and most especially her connection with a prominent socialist figure, that took me outside of the novel. For example, while I enjoyed Eleanor Roosevelt’s presence, the embarrassing near sexual encounter between her and Etta was out of place in Etta’s story. It did not add any substance to her character or move the plot along in any way that Eleanor’s loneliness could not. Their friendship lost its luster to me afterward. In a novel about Eleanor, this would have been interesting. Within this novel, it was just noise.
Etta is a strong woman, yet she is compassionate as well. Her instincts keep her one step ahead of those who would do her harm, but it is the relationships she builds with the poor and the powerful alike that truly keep her safe. She is an intriguing character and I enjoyed reading about her adventures with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I am not alone. It is clear through the crafting of his debut novel that Gerald Kolpan found the myths and realities surrounding Etta inspiring as well. I found the news paper articles and the detective work going on alongside Etta’s story lively and fun. I can only imagine how much he enjoyed taking the bits and pieces of historical fact surrounding the real Etta Place and capturing her essence in writing. I look forward to seeing where Kolpan’s imagination will take him and his readers next.
Etta will be released on March 24, 2009, but you don’t have to wait to experience some of the energy and adventure of this novel. Gerald Kolpan has created a fabulous website to compliment Etta. I discovered it after I finished the novel when Mr. Kolpan left a comment. As much as I enjoyed the site after reading the novel, it would be an excellent way to get excited about reading it. What are you waiting for?
This novel is set to be published in March of 2009. To pre-order this book, click here.