Gunfights, romance, cross-country chases, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid-this modern Western has everything you could want from the genre, and a few twists.
Jesse James. Billy the Kid. Butch and Sundance. The true lives and deaths of these outlaws have been lost; rendered irrelevant by more than a century of speculation and myth. Some question whether they ever existed at all. But not Ewen "Wyoming" McGinnis. In 1901, at the age of 20, Wyoming rides away from Butch and Sundance for the last time, after learning how to fall out of the sky onto rushing trains and pull off congenial bank robberies as part of their Wild Bunch.
On his way toward Alberta, with his saddle bags full of useless unsigned banknotes, a Pinkerton detective on his trail, and the revenge-seeking Kid Curry breathing down his neck, Wyoming realizes that the romanticized life of the outlaw is rapidly disappearing under the boot of industry, and that for an illiterate man who knows nothing but riding horses and emptying trains of their payload at gunpoint, there aren't many options left.
That is until he meets Veccha, a clairvoyant living alone amongst the last vestiges of the Peigan in what is now southern Alberta. In Veccha, Wyoming finds love, learning, and a chance at leaving "Wyoming" behind forever. As long as Kid Curry and a detective named Mackenzie Webb don't catch him first.
"Leaving Wyoming is a case of the word transcending 1,000 pictures."
-- Globe & Mail
"Robillard takes to the outlaw trail with vim and vigor, leading his readers to Hole-in-the Wall to meet Big Nose George, Buckskin Ed and the James Brothers. His characters are vivid, historically impressive and full of advice."
-- Owen Sound Sun Times
"Robillard skilfully combines life and legend, love and death in these pages. This is a remarkable book, and a beautiful one."
-- Uptown Magazine
- The real lives of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid have been explored, investigated, sifted, and mythologized in both literature and film for more than one hundred years. What does Robillard add to the weight of volumes by writing about them now – if anything? Why does he include them in Wyoming’s story?
- Wyoming's tale is told in four distinct points of view alongside documentary-style interludes, biographical information, and anecdotal history. How does Robillard's inclusion of these different voices affect your experience of the story? Why do you think he chose to reveal the story in this way?
- "That’s the way the newspapermen wanted him" (24). In the 1890s and early 1900s, newspapers were the primary source of news in North America. The common practice for newspapermen and editors of this era was to "colour" their reports with their own interpretations and bias. Objectivity was not considered to be important. Publishers even encouraged this cavalier approach to sell more papers. How would this "yellow journalism," as it became known, affect a reader’s world-view? How is this reflected in Robillard’s treatment of Butch and Sundance, or Billy the Kid? How might Wyoming's story be different if portrayed in period newspapers?
- It is commonly accepted that Butch and Sundance made their way to Argentina with Etta Place in tow. They bought a ranch and worked it legitimately for years. But for whatever reason, Etta left them and returned to Brown’s Park. Shortly afterward, the two bandits took up their old ways, robbing payroll shipments en route to Bolivian silver mines. According to an Elks Magazine report -- fifteen yeas after the fact -- the bandits were eventually tracked down and surrounded by federal troops in 1908. Sundance was killed in the ensuing gun battle. Butch, mortally wounded, followed him by taking his own life. Nonetheless, even to this day, there are historians who claim that Butch and Sundance were not killed in Bolivia as authorities pronounced. What drives the circulation of these little accepted theories? Is it a quest for historical accuracy, or the need for our heroes to defy death?
- "So Butch used his share of the earnings from the Wilcox robbery to have a big meal cooked for the community" (135). How is the Robin Hood factor of the Butch Cassidy myth -- robbing from the rich railroad barons to give to the poor -- a requirement for heroism? What is the likelihood that Cassidy held up trains for the benefit of others and not for personal gain? Would this change your appreciation of him as an outlaw-hero, either way?
- "And only in this world could the Butch Cassidys and the Harvey Logans meet and call themselves friends" (40). The Outlaw Trail was full of young men looking for adventure. But it was also populated by the "worst element of society" (38) -- murderers and hired assassins. Even the Pinkerton Detective Agency looked at the criminals differently, dividing them into a special hierarchy. Where is the line between youthful misbehaviour and genuine criminal activity? As a reader, are you pleased when Wyoming leaves unpunished with Veccha and the money, or would you rather have had him brought to justice? Explain your choice.
- "Thirty seconds and the myth grew" (123). How have the lives of men like Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Butch and Sundance, been mythologized in our modern lore? Is it possible to separate them from their legends?
- "These men lived out the vicarious wishes of a frontier nation quickly running out of room" (35). What is our fascination with outlaws and the lifestyle of the "cowboy-bandit"? Are they truly living out our vicarious lives?
- "...they are living out an intricate dance. One where all the steps have been predetermined" (154). Several times throughout the novel, Wyoming experiences a sort of déja-vu which he eventually interprets as fate -- his life recurring over and over again. "And suddenly the significance of his choice...seems cosmically important...a choice he has already made" (155). How do our decisions gain importance if we accept such a world view?
- At the end of the novel, Two Bears and his people become "victims to aerial perspective" (169). Can the transformation of the Wild West and the banishing of its frontiersmen be equated with the disappearance of native culture? Are they both equally victims of evolution -- the slow march of time?
- "You ought to think about Canada, kid. The West is a vise and somebody’s turning the screw" (41). Wyoming praises Butch for his ability to adapt and outwit the lawmen of the age. However, rather than change his ways entirely, Butch chooses to leave the Outlaw Trail. Is Wyoming wrong about Butch? How else can the man’s decision to leave be explained?
- "Two hundred million years ago, this valley was an ocean. And the birds were fish" (140). At the same time that Veccha values history, learning, and archeology, she seems to accept the process of evolution and change. How does her ability to transform save her from the same fate as Webb, Butch and Sundance, or even Two Bears?
- "Wyoming remembers that no one spoke in the first seconds after the bear’s death. Its mad dash for sustenance. Dead now because it struggle for survival was at odds with the cowboys and their herd. A fated confrontation. The eternal conflict"(167). As with the death of the bear, Wyoming "harbours no rancour" toward Webb after he is killed by Veccha. How are both deaths similar? How are they different?
- "Others have called it the gift. Because they cannot know. Cannot possibly understand what it is like to have the random curiosity of a life stripped away..." (71) In the beginning, Veccha refers to her clairvoyance as a "gift-curse." How is this paradox portrayed in the novel?
- "And even though she has possessed her clairvoyance since birth, it is only in the last few days she has come to understand what it is. Not the curse she always believed it to be. Not a gift, either. But a test" (164). How does Veccha come to this conclusion by the end of the novel? How might living day to day be an act of faith for her? An affirmation of the importance of life?
- Why would Robillard choose to make Veccha a clairvoyant? How does the ability to forecast the future fit into the story thematically?
- "And suddenly he would like very much to have that book. To be able to read the next page" (111). Because Wyoming cannot read, he tends to fetishize books. How is it possible that the right book might actually "have a story like his"? How can books help us navigate our own lives?
- How do Two Bears' stories of Napiw, The Old Man, aid him in legislating his own life? How do they offer comfort and hope?
- What does the Milk River coulee wall symbolize in the novel -- with its petroglyphs and its pictographs?
- "...time and space have broken away from their human constraints and he is at one with all that has been. All that will be" (134). Given the historical nature of the novel, and the importance that the Robillard allows history in his telling of the story, how might this be the author speaking through Wyoming?
Leo Brent Robillard is an author and an educator. His work has appeared in various magazines, journals, and anthologies in Canada and abroad. He is a past recipient of the George Johnston Poetry Prize, the Ray Burell Award for Poetry and the Cold Steel Crime and Mystery Award. He is the author of three Turnstone Press novels, Leaving Wyoming, Houdini’s Shadow, and Drift. He lives, teaches, and writes in Ontario.