All True Not a Lie in It is rich in contradiction and fear

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      All True Not a Lie in It
      By Alix Hawley. Knopf Canada, 384 pp, hardcover

      Alix Hawley’s All True Not a Lie in It won the national Magazine First Novel Award for good reason.

      Her first-person account of the life of Daniel Boone—the great colonizer of the American West, long-time captive of the Shawnee, murderer, hunter and hunted—embodies a genius balance between myth and the all too human.

      In Hawley’s novel, Boone grows into a restless manhood in a Quaker colony, until he steps out, exploring, travelling, marrying. His story sees him through the years he created Fort Boonesborough, then lived as an “adopted” son (or willing prisoner) of a Shawnee chief, dreaming of an idyllic Kentucky, all during the American War of Independence.

      All True is gospel. In the same way that the Bible is an attempt to embody a story of God, to comprehend Him, All True reads like a sacred text of the Boone myth. Hawley’s narrative deftness is in Boone’s voice, with the gorgeous rhythms of scripture—its silences, its ease, its pronouncements and mysteries.

      Here he is in the winter woods, about to be captured: “Death is creeping up from my shoes. The thought of it makes me stagger. I drag myself over the fallen tree into the wider dark. Here on the other side I stand. A rustling like bodies made of leaves coming to life. No pretence that I am alone. We all have our parts now, we all of us know it.”

      Like pure jazz ornamenting a tune, Hawley busts Boone open, blares and muffles his story, making the flat ditty a complex beauty. All True is intricate, moving in the opposite direction of a docudrama, from the reductive, canned tale to a lived one, rich in contradiction and fear.

      Followed by the ghosts of those he’s disappointed, this Boone is haunted by his own humanity, by the limits of what he can do, by his failings to provide and protect. It’s as much a novel about the limits (and terrible lies) of manhood. Hawley’s Boone, damned by ignorance, damned by an emotional blindness, is deeply, gorgeously human.

      This Boone’s spectacular failings are a measure of All True’s success.