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Book Review (ARC) | Etta: A Novel by Gerald Kolpan

November 19, 2008

Etta: A Novel
Random House link for Etta
Ballantine Books, release date: March 24, 2009
336 pages
Historical fiction
Book provided by Random House
Book #105/08

From the Random House site: Beautiful, elusive, and refined, Etta Place captivated the nation at the turn of the last century as she dodged the law with the Wild Bunch, led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Her true identity and fate have remained a mystery that has tantalized historians for decades. Now, for the first time, Gerald Kolpan envisions this remarkable woman’s life in a stunning debut novel.

Honestly I knew next to nothing about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid except that two very talented actors, the late Paul Newman and Robert Redford, portrayed them in a 1969 movie yet I still jumped at the chance to read this book. The premise of the story was so interesting I just couldn’t pass on this one.

This book is a work of fiction and, at times, that’s hard to remember. Mr. Kolpan fashions a thoroughly entertaining tale by fabricating dispatches from the Pinkerton Detective agency, entries from Etta‘s diary, and newspaper accounts of the day. He skillfully weaves them together bringing to life an elusive lady. We follow Etta from the time she becomes an orphan at the age of 18 (1898) to her last diary entry at age 39 (1937). 

With Mr. Kolpan’s vivid imagination and gifted storytelling the reader follows Etta west as she becomes a Harvey Girl (more Harvey Girl History). Accused of killing a man Etta flees and meets up with The Wild Bunch. The reader is then treated to bank and train robberies along with camp life at the infamous Hole in the Wall. She has to be one of the most genteel robbers in history as she never took the important pieces of jewelry such as wedding bands nor did she take from those who couldn’t afford. Only robbing those raised in the same station in life as herself ~ society. Once her outlaw life comes to an end we follow Etta back east where she settles into a quiet life meeting Eleanor Roosevelt, taking employment at Settlement House, and waiting for the love of her life, Harry Longbaugh, the notorious outlaw known as The Sundance Kid. Alas all does not go smoothly for Etta and she meets Wild Bill Cody joining his wild west show for a period time. The rest of this spellbinding story you’ll have to read for yourself.

This book is jam packed with historical detail and characters. I found Mr. Kolpan’s depiction of Etta’s life both mesmerizing and intriguing. Working with limited information about a person relatively unknown to most people and creating a believable account of her life is the gift of a good writer.

I recommend this book for any reader not just those who love historical fiction. Men and women alike will be attracted to this story.

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One Comment
  1. November 19, 2008 4:36 pm

    Wow! That sounds so good.

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