Kevin McIlvoy’s collection The Complete History of New Mexico is wonderful*–especially so is the three part novella, which holds the same title of the book.
The Complete History of New Mexico tells the story of Charlemagne J. Belter (or Chum as he was poignantly called by his best friend), his father, his stepmother Bet, his teacher Mrs. Betterson and his beloved friend Daniel and his sister Marty. The story is unusual in that it is told in a series of research papers (each receiving a failing grade) written by the 11-year-old and typed up by his “stepmother”, Bet. Within each paper, an alternate history of New Mexico is revealed (as told by the people who populate Chum’s life) as well as the tragic lives of Daniel and Marty. Somewhere along the narrative, Daniel is killed after trying to stop something from happening (never overt, it seems that Marty and perhaps even Daniel was being molested by her father) and Marty disappears. The mystery of what happened to Marty is revealed in the final section when Mrs. Betterson tells Chum what happened.
I love a writer who takes a risk and I love a writer who takes a risk and succeeds at it even more. In his unusual way of telling this story, McIlvoy succeeded in making this history as real as real can be. He did exactly as Chum hopes, provides us with an alternate history we can but our faith in:
You can try but you can never run out of History. After you run out of Faith you have got History which people put their Faith in who are not religious at all.
There are many other great stories in this collection, but my heart lies with Chum and his engaging spirit.
* DISCLAIMER: I know it seems I love every book I write about here, but to be honest I only write about the things I love or like because I don’t have the time to read or write about things I don’t like. I’m not a critic. I’m a reader.