The “man of letters” who “edits” Jack’s tape-recorded story, Ralph Fielding Snell, describes the protagonist in his epilogue as “a cynical man, uncouth, unscrupulous, and when necessary, even ruthless.” Jack is a rogue, but unlike most heroes of picaresque novels, he admits his roguishness, explaining that he has had to be “shifty” to survive. Jack steals to prolong a stay in Saint Louis, lies to get a job, and runs up bills that he does not intend to pay. Worse, he leaves his pregnant Mexican mistress, gives up on Olga and their child after he discovers that they have adopted Indian ways, and decides to abandon his Cheyenne family as Sunshine is about to give birth. He never tries to justify such actions; they are merely part of daily life in the unidealized, cutthroat West. For all his sympathy for the Indians and mistrust of white civilization, he can be flexible, as when he briefly begins to prosper: “I thought it swell that white enterprise was reclaiming the Indian wastes.” He resents the Indians for not sharing his materialism: “Old Lodge Skins had spent more than seventy years on the prairies and what did he have to show for it?” This man with the ironic initials will not die for anyone’s sins but his own.
Berger gives Jack such flaws to make him a traditional picaro, both a victim and a victimizer, to make him a complex, believable character. Jack may be a rogue, but he has a conscience. He tries to rescue Amelia, the...
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