Strangely enough, all these characters appear in a single book.
cowboys, cavemen, or Cain and Abel?
a choose-your-own-adventure book review

You have a time-space machine that can transport you to one of seven time-locations, and immerse you in events there.

You must choose one after hearing the list.

A. 15,000 BC, Eurasia — CAVE MEN (AND WOMEN)
You are a small blonde girl orphaned in an earthquake, saved by the medicine woman of passing migrants, who are hairier and have different head shapes than you.

to choose this option, scroll down to A

B. 1000 AD — Medieval London — JUGGLING BARBER-SURGEONS
You are an orphan boy, taken as an apprentice by a stern but kindly barber-surgeon. You must learn the art of healing, and how to juggle 5 balls, if you hope to keep your job.

to choose this option, scroll down to B

C. 1876, the Texas-Mexico border — COWBOYS AND INDIANS
You’ll join a colorful cast of characters: the captain, the old rogue, the moon-watching scout, the slow-thinking lieutenant, the wild card, the boy, the cowboy, the cook, Lorena, Maggie, the sheriff, the Comanches …

to choose this option, scroll down to C

D. late 1800s, California’s Salinas Valley — GOOD AND EVIL
You will discover California, with all its hopes and despairs.

to choose this option, scroll down to D

E. ????, La Paz, Baja Californa, Mexico — THE PEARL OF THE WORLD
What will you do to protect your family?

to choose this option, scroll down to E

F. 1900s and 10s — New York — JAZZ, RACIAL TENSIONS, FIREWORKS
Join mother, father, the boy, Mother’s younger brother, Freud, Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Booker T. Washington and others in jazz-age New York.

to choose this option, scroll down to F

G. 1950s, 60s — Exeter, New Hampshire —
What more can we say?

to choose this option, scroll down to G

The Clan of the Cave Bear
Note: no actual bears are harmed in the book. I think.
Jean Auel, 1980

What it’s about: An orphaned modern human (?) is taken in by a Neanderthal tribe when both species roamed Europe.

With the same sharp stone knives they used to skin and cut the meat, the women scraped and sliced roots and tubers. Tightly woven waterproof baskets and wooden bowls were filled with water, and then hot stones were added. When cooled, the stones were put back in the fire and new ones were put in the water until it boiled and the vegetables cooked. Fat grubs were toasted crisp and small lizards roasted whole until their tough skins blackened and cracked, exposing tasty bits of well-cooked flesh.

one-sentence review: Super-detailed glimpse at cave-person life.

The Physician
Being a barber-surgeon is a lot more fun than it sounds.
Noah Gordon, 1986

what it’s about:
An orphan in 11th century London becomes a barber-surgeon’s apprentice, learns to juggle, travels East to learn the art of medicine.

excerpt: (eating on the road)
He had bacon, and cut it thick. When the meat was done in the blackened pan he dredged the trouts in flour and did them crisp and brown in the fat, adding the onions and mushrooms at the last.

The spines of the trouts lifted cleanly from the streaming flesh, freeing most of the bones. While they enjoyed the fish and the meat, Barber fried barley bread in the flavored fat that remained, covering the toast with husky slices of cheese he allowed to melt bubbly in the pan. To finish, they drank the cold sweet water of the brook that had given them the fish.

Barber was in better cheer. A fat man had to be fed to be at his best, Rob perceived.

one-sentence review: Learn about medieval medicine, food, and life.

Lonesome Dove
“I don’t know where you keep finding these Mexican strawberries,” he said, referring to the beans. Bolivar managed to find them three hundred and sixty-five days a year, mixing them with so many red chilies that a spoonful of beans was more or less as hot as a spoonful of red ants.
Larry McMurtry, 1985

what it’s about: Former Indian-fighting Texas Rangers along the Rio Grande ponder driving cattle up to Montana.

excerpt: (Augustus makes a sign for the run-down cattle company he runs with CW Call.)

At first he had started out spare and just put the name of the firm, “Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium,” but that caused controversy in itself. Call claimed nobody knew what an emporium was, including himself, and he still didn’t despite Augustus’s many long-winded attempts to explain it to him. All Call knew was that they didn’t run one, and he didn’t want one, whatever it was, and there was no way something like that could fit with a cattle company.

However, Augustus had his way, and “Emporium” went on the sign. He mainly put it in because he wanted visitors to know there was at least one person in Lonesome Dove who knew how to spell important words.

one-sentence review: At times funny and strongly melancholy, Catch-22 meets Gone With the Wind.

East of Eden
John Steinbeck, 1952

what it’s about: Families live and die in the Salinas Valley of Central California.

excerpt: (A judge chides a constable for forcing a murder confession from the town idiot.)

‘He said he did it.’ The constable’s feelings were hurt because he was a conscientious man.

‘He would have admitted climbing the golden stairs and cutting St. Peter’s throat with a bowling ball,’ the judge said. ‘Be more careful, Mike. The law was designed to save, not to destroy.’

one-sentence review: Epic, Biblical examination of family, life, good, evil.

The Pearl
John Steinbeck, 1947

what it’s about: Poor villagers try to help their son.

Kino looked down to cover his eyes from the glare. He could hear the pat of the corncakes in the house and the rich smell of them on the cooking plate. The ants were busy on the ground, big black ones with shiny bodies, and little dusty quick ants. Kino watched with the detachment of God while a dusty ant frantically tried to escape the sand trap an ant lion had dug for him.

one-sentence review: Powerful tale of hope and despair, love and family.

E.L. Doctorow, 1975

what it’s about: A prominent New York family becomes intertwined with current events. Houdini, Freud, JP Morgan, Henry Ford and Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand feature.

Thus did the artist point his life along the lines of flow of American energy. Workers would strike and die but in the streets of cities an entrepreneur could cook sweet potatoes in a bucket of hot coals and sell them for a penny or two. A smiling hurdy-gurdy man could fill his cup. Phil the Fiddler, undaunted by the snow, cut away the fingers of his gloves and played under the lighted windows of mansions. Frank the Cash Boy kept his eyes open for a runaway horse carrying the daughter of a Wall Street broker. All across the continent merchants pressed the large round keys of their registers.

one-sentence review: Plainly written yet surreal account of life in the 1920s — highly entertaining.

A Prayer for Owen Meany
Owen Meany, the Musical!
John Irving, 1989

what it’s about: The narrator grows up with Owen Meany — a tiny person with a strange voice and an old soul — in the small-town, boarding-school world of New Hampshire.

excerpt: (first lines)
I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice — not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.

one-sentence review: Messianic midget.

Sam-Omar Hall is a freelance journalist and avid reader based in San Francisco. His favorite shape is a dodecahedron. He is on Goodreads

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