"The Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh"


If you gave up on the feasibility of a Western/science fiction mash-up when "Cowboys vs Aliens"  tanked a few months back, give it another try. On the page, at any rate. "Phoenix" contributor Steve Drachman revives the nascent genre with his rip-snorting, mind boggling novel "The Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh."  

The title hero  -- a Western legend, Civil War Veteran, and Wild West Show star -- has, like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five," become unstuck in time.  Also like Pilgrim, who was forever traumatized by the Allied bombing of Dresden during World War II, at the heart of Watt's chronological peregrinations is a tragic historical event, in his case the 1863 New York City Draft Riots during which uncounted African-Americans were lynched.

Love also plays a major part in Watt's tale: he's lost his heart to Lucy Billings, a beautiful firebrand and fighter for justice who unfortunately has taken up with someone whose revolutionary commitment is greater than his own. But there are other amorous solaces with which he passes the time, or times; like Emelina, a bawdy barmaid and apparently immortal revenant.

So you could say there's a lot going on in this teeming tome, including cameos by Oscar Wilde and J.P. Morgan, the latter of whom  is responsible for one of Watt's grimmer misadventures when he has the redoubtable cowpoke tossed into the Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie on a bogus murder charge.

That's also where Drachman will be reading from "Watt" on Tuesday as he makes a brief tour of some of the Western sites where the novel is set. No word as to whether he will be traveling through time to read on the dates when it takes place as well.

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