I Can't Not See Val Kilmer

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Bucking the Tiger

Bruce Olds

Fiction, 371 pages

I’ve seen Tombstone too many times. The 1993 western’s lines are engrained my skull forever: Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday: “I’ll be your huckleberry.” or “Your a daisy if you do.” Or his showdown with Johnny Ringo which apparently never happened. Who’s looking for history anyways with Hollywood? As cornball as Tombstone is, I still love it. Val Kilmer’s pasty-white portrayal of Doc is probably his best role—outside of Elvis in True Romance (also from 1993). I think we can conclude it was Mr. Kilmer’s best year. Tombstone is another example of how films overwrite my mind’s image in a book. I just can’t picture anything else but the movie: Lord of Rings—ruined. Godfather, never even tried to read Puzo. It’s not whether the movie is quality or if it’s better than the book. Maybe I see movies more times than I read a given book.

Anyways.

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Bruce Olds’ debut novel: Bucking the Tiger, (BTT) begins with an author’s note about the form of his novel and the form is one of his strong suits. BTT is a mashup of narrative, quotes, poetry, song, encyclopedic lists, confessions, lover’s quarrels, newspaper articles… I think Mr. Olds is at his best when he works like this. The same goes for his second novel, Raising Holy Hell, which is brilliant and stark. There’s even a brief mention of John Brown from Doc Holliday’s character 3/4 of the way through BTT. I like to think that John Brown’s story was already percolating in BTT.

One my favorite sections from BTT was Holliday’s guide to poker, which I am pretty sure is fiction. Holliday stresses that the action is key, not the money. Staying in the game is the most important part of life. What you do, how you play, not the amount you win. The money is just the syntax of poker, not the end goal. This reminds me of the adage about washing dishes: be the best dish washer you can when you do it. No matter the task, do it well. Olds portrays Holliday as a man obsessed with quality, not quantity, for a man with only a few decades will never have the later.

I don’t think many people are reading Bruce Olds, and that’s a shame. I was fortunate to read him in grad school and he’s held up over the last five years in my library. I think you’ll find the same.