By Earl Staggs
I know that’s a harsh thing to say and you may wonder why I’m saying it.
I’ll get to that in a minute.
First, let me tell you how I reached this feeling about him.
It began when someone offered me a copy of THE GATES OF THE ALAMO, a novel by Stephen Harrrigan, published in hardcover by Alfred A Knopf in 2000 and in paperback by Penguin in 2001. According to the cover, it was a NY Times Bestseller. I’m a bit of a history buff and now that I’m living in Texas, the story of the Alamo is of particular interest. It’s a long book, 732 pages.
Before I begin reading a book, I read the cover front and back, as well as the acknowledgments page and any introduction provided. I learned this book combined heavily researched fact with fiction to look beyond the legends and give the true story. Good. I always like to know the real truth behind legends.
Did you know, for example, in those days, the Alamo was known as Mission Valero and the town was called Bexar, not San Antonio. Travis did not draw a line in the sand as the popular legend goes and ask those who wanted to stay and fight to step over. Also, Davy Crockett was a respected celebrity among the other Alamo defenders and wore an expensive dress suit more appropriate for a former Congressman rather than the deerskin and coonskin hat as we usually envision him. Of particular interest to me was learning that Crockett sneaked out of the fort before the final attack. . .but returned a few days later with reinforcements.
Anyway, the book develops a lot of characters on both sides of the battle in building up to the fall of the Alamo. I happened to be most interested in the events inside the Alamo during the siege and skimmed over a lot of that.
In skimming, however, many phrases and sentences leapt out at me. Here are some of them:
“. . .led across a flat coastal plain graced by an occasional rise of land no higher than an ocean wave.”
“. . .a one-story building of shell concrete whose exterior was crumbling like a stale cake.”
“. . .the dangerous state of the country figured in her imagination as a stalled hurricane, a dark cloud gathering momentum for its first capricious surge.”
“. . .the water had a slumbering calm.”
“. . .went to her bed as weary as she could ever remember being, and as she went to sleep, her body felt like a stone falling through the deep waters of a lake.”
“. . .people going about their errands as if the day were spread out before them like a gift.”
“. . .watched him pass through the open doorway of the church. In the deepening shadows of this winter evening that arched opening looked like a human mouth in a frozen expression of anguish."
As you can see, Mr. Harrigan has an amazing ability to create vivid and striking imagery, not with flowery words, but in simple ones easily within reach and understanding. As hard as I try, I find it extremely difficult to write descriptions that are anywhere near as keen and smooth as his.
I’m sure you can understand now why I feel as I do about this highly skilled author. He’s too good. I’d give anything to achieve his level.
But rather than admit to pure, unadulterated envy, I say it this way: I hate him.