‘The Man Who Knew Belle Starr’ by Richard Bausch

The Man Who Knew Belle Starr by Richard Bausch, 1987

The magic trick:

Crescendo of doom

We’re off to New Mexico this week.

Richard Bausch takes us on a road trip through the American southwest, and it’s a jarring ride. This one bears more than a passing resemblance to Flannery O’Connor’s classic “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” So if you’re even vaguely familiar with that story, you’ll know that the comparison implies violence and an ominous tone.

What’s really cool about “The Man Who Knew Belle Starr” is that it unspools its ominous vibes slowly. There are early clues, but you can’t be sure. Then when things get bad, you wonder if they might get even worse. Then they get worse, and you wonder where they might end.

It’s as if the story dares you to keep reading.

And that’s quite a trick on Bausch’s part.

The selection:

“What’s in the bag?” he said.

She sat up a little. “Nothing. Another blouse.”

“Well, so what did you mean back there?”

“Back where?”

“Look,” he said, “we don’t have to do any talking if you don’t want to.”

“Then what will we do?”

“Anything you want,” he said.

“What if I just want to sit here and let you drive me all the way to Nevada?”

“That’s fine,” he said. “That’s just fine.”

“Well, I won’t do that. We can talk.”

“Are you going to Nevada?” he asked.

She gave a little shrug of her shoulders. “Why not?”

“All right,” he said, and for some reason he offered her his hand. She looked at it and then smiled at him, and he put his hand back on the wheel.

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