Thursday, 22 January 2015

Outlaw Pete by Bruce Springsteen and Frank Caruso reviewed by Lynda Waterhouse

THIS IS NOT A CHILDREN’S BOOK! Although you will probably find it as I did on the shelves in the children’s section. Be warned that it contains violent images that are not aimed at very young children. Inside it describes itself as an adult book and as Bruce Springsteen says in the Afterword it is partly inspired by a bedtime story ‘Brave Cowboy Bill’ that his Mom used to tell him. He also says ‘I’m not sure this is a children’s book, though I believe children instinctively understand passion and tragedy. And, a six- month-old bank-robbing baby is a pretty good protagonist.’ Frank Caruso’s cartoon style illustration of baby Pete is indeed appealing to young children but in later spreads Pete grows up and the mood shifts making it more appropriate for young adults.
I was initially drawn to this book because I am a fan of Bruce Springsteen. Although my heart did sink as I thought ‘not another celebrity doing the children’s book thang.’ This is not the case here.
The story began as a song on The Working on a Dream album. This song inspired the illustrator Frank Caruso. He was drawn to the character of Outlaw Pete and the deeper meaning that lay beneath the story of the little baby born on the Appalachian Trail who robs a bank in his diapers and goes on to cut ‘a trail of tears across the countryside.’ One night he wakes from a vison of his own death and rides off deep into the West where he marries and has a child. However Bounty Hunter Dan is on his tail. There is a tragic showdown and Dan’s last words are ‘We cannot undo these things we’ve done.’
Pete rides for forty days and forty nights until he reaches the edge of a cliff…

As Springsteen says ‘Outlaw Pete is essentially the story of a man trying to outlive and outlast his sins. He’s challenging fate by trying to outrun his poisons, his toxicity. Of course you can’t do that. Where we go, they go. You can only learn to live with it. How well or poorly we do that gauges how much grace we can bring into our lives along with our level of fortitude in body and soul.’ That surely is a story worth the telling.
ISBN 978-1-47-114279-6 published by Simon and Schuster


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