Tyler Enfield’s new novel, Like Rum-Drunk Angels, is anything but a straightforward western. This book, about an outlaw who becomes a folk hero, is filled with magic. There’s an ethereal quality throughout. Towns of the late-19th century Old West become trading posts of magical possibilities. Train robberies transform into celebrity photo-ops. It’s a truly mesmerizing work.
But, the book’s release has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. With fewer opportunities to do tours and readings, Enfield admits he’s in a bit of a bind.
“My book was scheduled to come out two days before the world went dark. I am still trying to find my way,” he says.
Avenue chatted with Enfield about a novel that truly reinvigorates the Western genre.
A: How does a writer in Edmonton write such an epic Western that’s set in Arizona and California?
TE: I grew up in California, which is still “The West.” I’ve got some really interesting family, colourful personalities who I often draw from when I am creating these characters. They fit very well into the Western genre. But, also, from a really young age, I got interested in Spaghetti Westerns — like Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. They’re not traditional Westerns, they’re weird, surreal, almost psychedelic. But, somehow I resonated with them when I was really young. I think they imprinted somewhere in my psyche. I’ve always enjoyed good Westerns the way I enjoy good kung fu stories. In some ways, they’re corny, but there’s something in there, if it’s done right, if you can walk that tightrope, that fine line between campy and cool, you can pull it off like a magic trick.
A: When did you move to Canada?
TE: Eighteen years ago.
A: What part of California are you from?
TE: Walnut Creek. It’s near San Francisco. When I grew up, it was quite a small little town. Almost like a village.
A: The hero of the book, Francis Blackstone, is a bandit with the heart of gold. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone. The idea of the lovable bandit isn’t new — but his transformation into an outlaw is spurred by the idea of him needing money in order to impress the family of the girl that he loves …
TE: I liked the idea of him being all-in when it comes to love. He’s all-in in an unconditional way. When he’s all-in, it means there are no red lights. Anything goes. He’s willing to rob banks, he’s willing to rob trains. He doesn’t have an inner set of rules or dogma or right and wrong. His right and wrong is based on knowing. It’s a different sort of orientation. So he’s more focused on what is clear, then dealing with the consequences of his clarity, whatever they may be.
A: There are scenes in the book where time travel kicks in; “I Am the Walrus” is played on the piano in a 19th century Old West saloon; and Steppenwolf comes into the fold later in the book. What gave you the inspiration to move these musicians into the Old West?
TE: Part of it was just fun. I love that song. I love John Lennon. I thought, what would it be like to have John Lennon magically appear in a California bar in 1884? I like magic realism. And part of it is just for a literary device. If I can bring in anachronisms, or magic realism, or something that blows the roof off, then I’ve got the readers where I want them. Which is: They can expect anything. There’s no limit in the direction I can lead the story.
A: Bob Temple, the antagonist, isn’t a straightforward man-in-black bad guy. He’s an outlaw going through an existential crisis. He’s complex. How was he inspired?
TE: I like tropes. I like cliches. It’s fun to bring them forward. The duel. The classic High Noon atmosphere. But I like to pull out the rug from under it and leave the reader a little bit dizzy, wondering what exactly they’re reading and what the story is really about. It’s fun to put forward these sort of classic ideas and notions and settings and put a different sprint on them. For example, Bob Temple is the antagonist bad-guy in a lot of ways, but he’s also a gunslinger going through a spiritual crisis. He’s having a mid-life breakdown and he doesn’t understand it. He just knows, in some way, it’s rooted with Francis’s arrival. It’s fun for me to have this stereotypical bad guy who’s also undergoing this metaphysical crisis. I wanted him to be dimensional. I didn’t want him to be all bad because he draws on a lot of my qualities. I couldn’t make him all evil. He shares a lot of my concerns, a lot of my issues. I put a lot of myself into Bob Temple as well.
A: How difficult is it to try and get the word out about the book during the COVID-19 pandemic?
TE: The bookstores aren’t open, so bookstores aren’t an option. The schools aren’t open, so presenting in schools isn’t an option. The launch was shut down. Basically, there are very few avenues that are still open to authors to try and promote their books … I think the larger question is should we even be promoting our books right now? That was the question that came to me, and one that I actually put to the publisher (Goose Lane Editions). The publisher is actually closed as well. They are working from home, and I know not all of them are working right now, either. People have larger concerns right now. On one hand, I feel an obligation to not just to shove the book off a cliff and say ‘that’s that.’ On the other hand, I know that people are focused on other things right now. Some of them are focused on survival, some are focused on just keeping their lives together. Perhaps promoting a book isn’t the right thing to do right now. I am uncertain about it all.