Michael Beam

by Richard Matthews Hallet
[Houghton Mifflin, $2.50]
MICHAEL BEAM broke open the vault of the United States Bank in Chillieothe with a crowbar, in order that the Sheriff from Columbus might collect the hundred thousand dollar tax levied on the bank by the State of Ohio; but the Federal Government resented the incident, so Michael, to avoid unpleasantness, went west and north and then west again, founded a prairie town called Sorry Crossing, and helped to end the hopeless Indian uprising called the Black Hawk War.
That is the historical background of Mr. Hullet’s book; but the fable goes deeper. For in the struggle between the whites who wanted to possess the land and the Indians who dwelt upon it Michael Beam found himself a man of divided loyalties. The deepest emotional springs drew him toward the Indians. His blood bond held him to the whites. The circumstances of his life forced him to betray first one and then the other in the effort to reconcile his own inner conflict.
Mr. Hallet has made this uncertainty in Michael Beam the heart of a book which presents a believable picture of the frontier of the thirties; but he has done much more. Some of us were not satisfied with the Leatherstocking Indians. Their inhuman nobility oppressed us, and their manner of speech was an offense to our ears. Mr. Hallet s Indians are not red devils, nor are they nature s noblemen. They are human beings, harried men and women in the process of being evicted from their homes, as real and as moving in their spiritual suffering and their physical privations as the modern migrants from the dust bowl.
The Indians in this book are more clearly realized than the men and women of Michael Beam’s own blood. Shavehead is much more of an individual than Parley Beam; the reader knows Torn Belly, the witch doctor, much better than he knows Val Martin or Tom Goad; Black Hawk wins a deeper sympathy than Captain Carteret, or than Jim Henry.
And above all. Red Bloom is much more a warm and living and beloved woman than Charlessie Carteret. It is in Red Bloom that the beauty of this book is centred. The bond between her and Michael is much more a union of the spirit than of the flesh. Out of their relationship Mr. Hallet evokes a deeply poetic beauty; and their hours together are warm with comfort and content.
Mr. Hallet writes with gentleness and certainty and strength. One of the tests of any novel is whether it can be read hurriedly. There is scarcely a phrase here which can be skipped without loss. Michael Beam is a book to be read a sentence at a time.