I should admit right off that I’ve never been a big fan of westerns, movies or books. That’s not to say that I’m opposed to them or haven’t enjoyed them. I’ve found several western movies enjoyable if a bit derivative. But I’ve never sought them out, and have really just seen them in passing.
Fistful of Feet is one of those enjoyable westerns but with bizarro overtones. In fact, the bizarro parts are mostly in the details, which would make this an otherwise normal western tale. I’ll explain about this part more in a little bit.
The story follows the town of Screwhorse, Nevada at so point after the Civil War. In from the desert wanders a stranger with a burping pistol and a wooden donkey who has a run-in with the local bullies, who work for the town’s wealthy citizen, William Lyons, who is friends with the mayor, who both have the town sheriff under their thumb. Did you get all that? Rounding out the cast are a card cheat, the local crazy gunslinger, a group of robbers, the general store manager, a hostile Indian tribe at the gates, and the local madam and her girls, and you have a cast mixed together from all the great western movies. See? A perfectly normal western mashup.
But this is Jordan Krall we’re talking about here. My only previous standalone experience from Krall was Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys. So it’s not going to be that normal. The interesting thing about this is that, as I mentioned, the bizarro elements are relegated to the details of the novel. For example, there are lots of appearances and references to two-tailed scorpions, in dreams and being used as drugs (that one takes some explaining, but you’ll have to read the book). Or the appearance of a starfish creature in one the rooms. But for the most part, this book remains an easily identifiable western.
There are multiple plot threads that intersect to varying degrees. There’s the stranger in town causing trouble with the local bullies, the robbers out for revenge, the con man trying to make a big score, and a murder mystery. These aren’t all immediately related, and Krall does jump around between various viewpoints easily and quickly, sometimes to the point that it gets a little confusing. It’s a pretty big cast for a reasonably short novel, too, which can add to some of the confusion as you switch between viewpoints and ask yourself “Wait, who is this person again?”
Ultimately, Fistful of Feet is an enjoyable western novel, and a worthwhile bizarro read, and while the writing is really solid, it does come up a bit short from being a perfect novel. There can be feelings that things got away from Krall a bit and that it may have been a more ambitious effort than was really needed. Still, Fistul of Feet is definitely worth your time, and comes off as a genuine if twisted tribute to the western genre.
Fistful of Feet by Jordan Krall earns 4 pistol burps out of 5.