Friday, March 28, 2008

"The Outcasts of Poker Flat" by Brett Harte

Source: Librivox (mp3)
Length: 27 min
Reader: William Coon

The story: In "The Outcasts of Poker Flat", the town of Poker Flat decides to purge itself of impure influences following a spate of unrelated crimes. A prostitute, a madam, a gambler, and a drunkard are exiled from the town and begin their trek to the nearest settlement, Sandy Bar. On their way, they meet Tom Simpson and his sweetheart, Piney, who have run away from Sandy Bar and are headed to Poker Flat to elope. These two groups, one innocent and the other sinful, pitch their camp together. Soon after, the cruelties of man and nature force the two group to rely upon one another for survival.

Harte writes a suspenseful Western that is enjoyable enough on the superficial level, but he pushes hard the innocent versus sinful theme. He contrasts the whiskey-soaked amusements of the outcasts with the "square fun" introduced by Tom and Piney, showing how drunken squalor leads to harm, while the more high-minded hymns and literature inspires the company to acts of self-sacrifice. However, Harte does not pass judgement on the outcasts. After all, the crimes they are exiled for, drunkeness, prostitution and gambling, were not comitted without the complicity of the townsfolk of Poker Flat. Toward the end, the virgin Piney and the prostitute Dutchess have a touching scene and show their similarities. Harte's audience was likely moralistic and judgemental, and in this story he reminds them to not judge too harshly.

Rating: 8/10

The reader: William Coon has a clear voice that rises and falls with the story. He voices the gambler Oakhurst with a John Wayne drawl. Women's voices tend to be the downfall of many male narrarators, but here the women's lines are few and Coon performs them just fine. The recording is clean with just a touch of background hiss. Coon reads on a number of Librivox recordings and his voice is one worth seeking out.

(painting "The Fall of the Cowboy" by Fredrick Remington. 1895. via Wikimedia. No copyright restrictions.)

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