The matter of whether Michael Carlson’s The Age of Daredevils is fiction or non is unimportant. The tale of the men and women who tumbled fatefully over the Horseshoe Falls of Niagara and through the raging rapids thereabout is true. Carlson’s knowledge is imposing and his research painstaking. The fiction in it is the thoughts and words said when the author wasn’t present to hear them. He is true to his subject. I’m confident his work is as accurate as he could have made it.
What made me love this book is the similarity I saw between the Hill family, central to the book and its subject, and all the others drawn to the Falls, and all others drawn to danger. I could see the motorcycle jumper Evel Knievel, the stock car racer Curtis Turner, and the impetuous aviator Amelia Earhart in the characters who slipped in and out of book. All were from an age when mankind scoffed at being protected from itself.
Maybe it’s the money. Maybe it’s a change, if not an advance, in civilization. Maybe, against all odds and confounding observation, people have got more sense now. Today we crave assurance. These people went out to see if they could make it, and not particularly worrying about the possibilities that they could not.
In the case of the Hills — Red Sr., Red Jr. (Bill), Major, Corky, other siblings, their wives and children, the durable matriarch Beatrice, all perched near the Falls on the Canadian side — they didn’t do it for the loot. They enjoyed the acclaim but paid dearly for it. They were rugged individualists, veterans of wars and smugglers of bootleg liquor, carousers and alcoholics, purveyors of danger, blessed by a mother who was the only one with a lick of sense.
The Hills would have felt some kinship with NASCAR’s Pettys, or country music’s Williamses, or politics’ Kennedys. They all knew what they were doing. All paid handsomely for their sins. Reading about the Hills made me think of what the rodeo cowboy Larry Mahan said allegedly (in a Guy Clark song): Mistakes are only horses in disguise / Ain’t no need to ride ’em over ’cause you could not ride ’em different if you tried.
The story requires no ornate telling. Carlson’s style is spare prose in pursuit of an astonishing yarn. His is a newspaperman’s appreciation of simplicity coupled with an historian’s eye for detail. He lays his story out simply and without equivocation or flourish.
I’ve written five novels and a collection of short stories. I’ve also written a number of books about sports, mostly about NASCAR. You can find most of them here.
The Kindle versions of my books, where available, can be found above. Links below are to print editions.
My new novel is a western, Cowboys Come Home.
I’ve written a crime novel about the corrosive effects of patronage and the rise and fall of a powerful politician and his dysfunctional family, Forgive Us Our Trespasses.
I’ve written about what happens to a football coach when he loses everything, Crazy of Natural Causes.
I’ve written a tale of the Sixties in the South, centered on school integration and a high school football team, The Intangibles.
I’ve written a rollicking yarn about the feds trying to track down and manipulate a national hero who just happens to be a pot-smoking songwriter, The Audacity of Dope.
I’ve written a collection of 11 short stories, all derived from songs I wrote, Longer Songs.
Follow me on Twitter @montedutton, @hmdutton (about writing), and/or @wastedpilgrim (more opinionated and irreverent). I’m on Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Instagram (TUG50), and Google-Plus (MonteDuttonWriter).