The writer Evan Connell died last Thursday. In addition to novels, poetry, and essays, Connell produced the non-fiction gem Son of the Morning Star: Custer and The Little Bighorn. The only one of his books that I have read, it has long been among my favorites.
In a NYT obituary, William Yardley tells us that Connell
spent many years in the San Francisco area, where he started writing an essay about Gen. George Armstrong Custer and could not stop. Soon he had a book, or what he thought should be one. It was called “Son of the Morning Star,” and initially no publisher would take it. One, North Point Press, which had published “Mrs. Bridge,” eventually did, releasing it in 1984, and the book became a surprise best seller.
ABC made a television movie based on the book in 1991.
In 2010, in a review of another author’s book on Custer’s Last Stand, Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times recalled “Son of the Morning Star” as having “lasting visceral resonance” and described it as a “masterpiece.”
In 1985, as “Son of the Morning Star” was having a long ride on the best-seller list, Mr. Connell told The Times: “There are two explanations for writing the book. Just about all the kids in this country grew up on cowboys and Indians. Maybe now it’s ‘Star Wars,’ but when I grew up in Kansas City, you could send in box tops — from Quaker Oats, I think — and get something like a color picture of Sitting Bull.
“As far as this project goes,” he continued, “a few years ago I was sitting in a saloon wondering what to write next. I didn’t have any ideas for a novel, and for years whenever I couldn’t manufacture something successful, I simply worked on a subject that interested me. And the Old West came to mind.”
If you haven’t read Son of the Morning Star, I suggest you do, regardless of whether you think you have any interest in the subject. You’ll be in for a treat.