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Deerslayer: 02/13/07


Back in December Ian and I had fun reading Mark Twain's infamous review of Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. Before Christmas when I had some time off from work we bought a copy to see if the book is as bad as the essay would imply. The short answer is yes and no. It was bad enough that I gave up on reading it seriously at about page 150, but did skim to the end

Twain cites an abuse of language, a lack of plot and impossible action scenes for his reason for hating the book. Yes; Cooper's use of language is sloppy but I've read worse. His action scenes (when there are any) are ridiculous (but no more so than Clive Cussler or Dan Brown at their worst). The plot though, that's where the book falls apart. The scenes jump for setting to setting and action scene to action scene without segue, explanation or motivation. While memorable scenes stuck with me I had a hard time following how they were all sewn together into a coherent story.

Another problem I had with the book was in the dialogue. As Twain notes in his review, no character has a consistent voice. Sometimes they are eloquent and sometimes they are speaking a backwoods dialect. There is no rhyme nor reason to how or when characters speak the way they do.

One of the things the characters spend a lot of time debating (as they are running from the Indians) are the various merits of the different races and the differences of men and women. These arguments seem to be set up to show Deerslayer (Natty Bumpo) as a progressive character compared to Hurry Harry (Henry March) but these scenes are excessive and get in the way of the real plot (the war with Indians). Then there is the domestic story of the man and his daughters who need protection in the middle of the hostilities. Ultimately the book ends with this plot ending poorly and it was the book's concentration on this rather dull plot that convinced me to stop reading.

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