I adored Billy the Kid. Absolutely. I finished it, googled the life of Billy the Kid, then threw myself back into the book for a second read. It's like poetry but not. Or I guess it's partly poetry. But with a plot. It feels like a well-wrapped gift, or a puzzle, and the fun part of it is unraveling it. Reading it slowly and savoring it. Making sense of things that didn't make sense the first time around. It feels special in the way that few books do. I am a huge fan of Ondaatje at this point, and am in love with how he uses his words, but also how he uses form. It's experimental, but not in a crazy kooky way that sometimes drives me nuts -- it's experimental in a beautiful way, like being carried by a stream and bumping along some boulders and brush and seareeds as we pass. I can't explain it in any other way.
The book is short -- around 100 pages -- but it is a collection of poems, prose snippets, photographs and even newspaper articles and dime books. It's at turns hilarious and horrifying, and it flips back and forth through time, so that on the first read, you have no idea what is going on. It switches point of views, it interviews other people, and it's not always clear what's happening. But that's part of the fun. Ondaatje creates a beautifully sympathetic character, and gives us a hilariously reimagined biography of an infamous character. And I love him for it.
The best books are the ones that I can go back to and reread over and over again and find something new to savor about it. Those books, for me, usually require some kind of language that I admire and want to roll endlessly on my tongue. There is something playful yet lyrical about Ondaatje's work. I also wonder if Autobiography of Red, an absolute favorite of mine, which elicited much of the same visceral devotion that I had with this book, was inspired by this 1970s novel (apparently Ondaatje's first). I liked this book as I was reading it the first time, loved it as I got towards the end, and now having gotten halfway through a second read, am completely enamored. These are the kind of books I love but can't even begin to understand how to go about writing.
Love love love.