The Toughest Kid We Knew: The Old New West: A Personal History
Novelist Frank Bergon shifts his attention homeward in this quirky little work of nonfiction to carry us back before flowering hillsides became Silicon Valley. He seems to ramble, as novelists are prone to do, but it is an interesting journey through history–both of the land now largely known for vineyards and almonds, and of Bergon’s personal family ties to the old ranches surrounding Madera. Along the way we get to know Bergon’s Basque family roots and a host of immigrants from other lands who came to work the land and develop it into what it is today.
The ordinariness of these people Bergon introduces washes away to reveal the toughness of their underlying character. The roots that install their endurance, or what Bergon calls “Indarra,” is a word he lifts right out of the Basquean tongue to describe a type of persistent strength that marks the enduring quality of people who make it through tough times. Booming out of the seemingly unrelated vignettes, while wondering if there is a point buried in this rambling, the reader begins to sense a pattern in the characters featured. This brand of toughness cannot be overtly taught academically. It has something to do with bloodlines, but not necessarily pedigree.
Late in the book when the reader has given up searching for a theme, Bergon finally gives us the story about the life and death of Billy Carter, the toughest kid in town. Then in reflection, Bergon takes us to a family style Basque Hotel dinner, as if to incorporate us with everyone else struggling to find their place into the family fold. But the dinner is not really enough. Bergon leaves us wanting more.
|University of Nevada Press
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