Sun Going Down by Jack Todd — 9781416550488 — ***
Time to Read: 32 Days
Sun Going Down is an epic western novel that starts off on a steamboat on the Mississippi River in 1863 and ends in Nebraska in 1933. It follows Ebenezer Paint and his decedents through their lives out west, beginning at a time when the cowboys were real, cattle-drives were a way of life, Indians still rode free and life was quieter and simpler. America grows as the Paint family struggles and thrives through history. Based in part on letters and memoirs of the author’s own family, this novel is true-to-life, its characters are real, and their struggles and triumphs capture the heart and the imagination.
How to review a book that is sometimes impossible to put down, and other times difficult to resist throwing across the room in frustration? Sun Going Down is nearly impossible to summarize because it covers so much ground that you risk giving parts away in order to summarize others. It covers a lot of topics and spans four generations. Sometimes I loved it, sometimes I hated it, but over all, I liked it. But not. Let’s just say I have mixed feelings about this one, but mostly catch myself saying it’s a good book.
The thing that frustrated me the most while reading it was the change of main characters. Obviously, it has to happen in a book that spans 130 years, but the way Todd does it (in some instances) drove me crazy! The first change from father to sons was good, but from son to granddaughter bothered me, and when it went from granddaughter to great granddaughter with only 40 or so pages left, I wanted to scream!
His treatment of his characters also got to me. He waits until you develop an appreciation for them, then he turns on them and puts them through the worst hardships! You would expect as much when taking the time period and their way of life into consideration, but sometimes it seems like they can’t catch a break, and even when they do, it’s not as good as you think!
It is a very slow read, but not in a bad way. Leisurely, I guess you could say. The first third felt like a prologue, and the final quarter felt like a drawn-out summery of a conclusion, but the meat of the story, the main middle portion, was excellent. I caught myself wishing he had written it as a trilogy. Perhaps if it was broken up into three separate books, I would have enjoyed it more, because I would have been able to put it down and take a bit of a break, then go back to it. Then again, it was so slow going that I might not have picked up the second book. At least not for a very long time.
All that being said, it is a good book. It’s very rich with history, the characters walk off the pages (spurs jangling) and tell you their stories, and you fall in love with them, cheer them on, hate them, and want to hold their hands and help them through. Western isn’t my usual genre, so a regular reader of books of this nature will probably appreciate it more than I did, but I did enjoy it, and I would recommend it to someone who can tolerate a story line that is brutally realistic with characters living difficult lives in difficult times.
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