La Florida

In an expedition that began in 1538 and endured until 1543, Hernando de Soto and six hundred men failed to discover in what is today Florida and the Lower American South that which they craved most to find—gold. Four centuries later, a young writer, poet, and novelist native to the region trained his genius on records pertaining to this expedition and thereby produced alchemically what De Soto and all his brave men never seized on. At the Moon's Inn, first published in 1941 and out of print for nearly fifty years, is pure gold—24-carat poetry of a luster that shines among the pile of goldbrick novels that contemporary American "literature" comprises. To say that it is the best work of fiction published in 1990 is to be guilty of a hilarious critical understatement.

Here, as in all of his books, Andrew Lytle is preoccupied with the most massive concerns of human experience: pride, valor, death, love, and reconciliation. It may be that At the Moon's Inn owes something to Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and it is even conceivable that it is owed something by an immediately recent novel, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, which shares with it historical and thematic affinities. Yet Lytle's imagination, unlike the great majority of novelists' imaginations, is essentially sacramental and allegorical, creating textures, effects, and layers of meaning that an equal...

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