The Millionaire and the Revolutionary

9781631492242_da915Winston Groom has just published first novel in nearly 20 years, a Western, inspired by a story about J.P. Morgan and Pancho Villa,  El Paso (Norton/Liveright; Recorded Books; OverDrive Sample).

In an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, Groom says he gave up writing fiction after Forrest Gump because he could not find a subject that captured his interest:

“I think that every novelist of the kind of novels that I write has in them maybe one really good book … but the trouble with so many novelists is that they keep on writing novels even when they run out of ideas. … So I was thinking, after the commercial success of Forrest Gump, that I didn’t really have any ideas that really grabbed me.”

He wrote nonfiction instead, on the history of the Civil War and WWI and WWII. He also wrote books about the West, all of which might have helped him imagine his next novel.

He tells NPR that a friend of his, “Eddie Morgan (a distant relative of the late J.P. Morgan), used to talk about his family’s million-acre cattle ranch in northern Mexico, and how Pancho Villa attacked it in 1916 … had the ranch manager sabered to death and then kidnapped his children.” Groom thought he could make a story of that.

The result says NPR is “a sprawling, 400-plus-page novel [that] takes place during the Mexican Revolution and follows a railroad tycoon on a manhunt across the High Sierras to rescue his kidnapped grandchildren from Pancho Villa. The book’s made-up characters interact with historical figures a lot like they did in Forrest Gump: Lt. George S. Patton … the cowboy movie star Tom Mix, the Socialist journalist John Reed and the Civil War writer Ambrose Bierce.”

In their review, Kirkus says “It’s not Lonesome Dove, but Groom’s Searcher’s-like rescue pursuit and his allusive homage to Treasure of the Sierra Madre make for an entertaining Western story.” Publishers Weekly calls it a “historically vivid and marvelously complex tale.”

El Paso is running at a rough 2:1 ratio, but Forrest Gump did not break big until after the film was made so keep an eye out for another possible sleeper hit.

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