Most little girls dream of their wedding day, play with barbies, and enjoy acting out stories where they play the princess. This past fall my mom and I were walking by the Disney Store at the local mall. They had princess costumes on display in the window for Halloween, she asked me which one I would have wanted to be. I paused and gave it some thought. Answered honestly, none. We walked past the store entrance to the display window on the opposite side where a Peter Pan costume was on full display. I pointed and said, that one. When I was young I dreamed of being Bonnie and Clyde, and when we played cops and robbers in my neighborhood I never landed myself in jail. Which is probably why my love of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is misunderstood by my more feminine friends. Ron Hansen’s descriptions of Jesse are genius with the perfect amount of odd details. Giving Jesse an heir of humanity, spirituality and other worldly villain that makes him appear human and god like at the same time. In the opening scene he cuts an image of Jesse that stays with the reader for the entire book,
Whenever he walked about the house, he carried several newspapers – the Sedalia Daily Democrat, the St. Joseph Gazette, and the Kansas City Times – with a foot-long .44 caliber pistol tucked into the fold. He stuffed flat pencils in his pockets. He played by flipping peanuts to squirrels. He braided yellow dandelions into his wife’s yellow hair. He practiced out-of-the-body travel, precognition, sorcery. He sucked raw egg yolks out of their shells and ate grass when sick, like a dog. He would flop open the limp Holy Bible that had belonged to his father, the late Reverend Robert S. James, and would contemplate whichever verses he chanced upon, getting privileged messages from each. The pages were scribbled over with penciled comments and interpretations; the cover was cool to his cheek.
Hansen continues for about five pages in his description. In these pages my own rebellious nature comes to the surface and I find myself, like I did as a child, wishing I was riding the prairies with Jesse.