these are the killed


“The Collected Works of Billy the Kid” was first published by a small press in the 1970s when its author, Michael Ondaatje, was still in his 20s and two decades away from the success and fame that would arrive with “The English Patient.” Yet this early work already shows a door opening into the future; indeed, it might be argued that here, in his meditation on the legendary American outlaw, Ondaatje was already assembling the key tools in his writer’s bag. Not much is known for sure about Billy the Kid: His real name was William Bonney; he was involved, on the losing side, in a vicious land war in Lincoln County, N.M., then the most violent territory in America; he killed many men and himself died in 1881, at age 21, shot by his friend Pat Garrett at Fort Sumner. These are the bare bones of the legend, but Ondaatje pries the reader’s mind loose from them, bringing the climax of Billy’s tale, and his psychology, to life with a shocking ferocity.

more from Richard Rayner in the LA Times here.