ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — At age 95, Max Evans is celebrating the publication of his new novel, “The King of Taos.”
“It’s almost like a miracle to me,” the longtime Albuquerque author said excitedly.
The manuscript of the novel has been a work in progress for decades.
“When I was working for (friend and film director Sam) Peckinpah I was thinking nostalgically about when I was living in Taos and about that old bunch of wino characters,” Evans said, referring to the endearing band of drinking buddies in the late 1950s who form the core of the novel.
“So I wrote part of the novel down. Then I didn’t write more of it for years and years. Then I started again.”
When Stephen Hull came on as executive director of the University of New Mexico Press in 2018, he met with Evans, saying how the press planned to launch the Max Evans Library with the reissuance of some of his books. That project began last fall.
In their conversation, Hull said, Evans told him he had returned to working on “The King of Taos” manuscript.
“There were rumors of the existence of the manuscript going back years. But it never really rose to the level of anything we could look at. … Of course we were very interested. Last summer we finally got to see it,” said Hull, who edited the manuscript.
UNM Press has published 18 of Evans’ books over the years, “and we sort of consider the press as Max’s publisher, though he’s published with others,” Hull said. “He’s a national treasure.”
Two of Evans’ two most famous novels were about cowboys and were made into movies – “The Rounders” and “The Hi-Lo Country.”
“The King of Taos” is not about royalty, nor about cowboys. It is ironically titled, featuring a “king” without a jeweled crown, one Zacharias Chacon. Zacharias is a handyman who holds court in a bar.
The book is about the camaraderie, the joy of life, the musings and the misadventures and dreams of Zacharias and his Tokay-loving friends.
Though no storyline binds the novel, the amusing, earthy characters are the glue. Besides Zacharias, there’s Shaw Spencer, a budding artist from Kansas who hopes to go into the construction business with Zacharias; there’s the Lover, who loves the ladies; there’s the Undertaker, the Fighter, the Woodhauler, Indian Tony, commercial artist Dal Holcomb and the Woodcarver. Most are fictional names.
A few are of real Taoseños, including Holcomb and the Woodcarver, who is identified as the famed sculptor/santero/whittler Patrociño Barela.
Throughout the novel, Zacharias is seen at a bar telling everyone that he’s waiting for his daughter Rosita to appear and tell him “the check” has arrived. That would be a check from the Veterans Administration in compensation for injuries he suffered in World War II. She repeatedly reports that sorry, no check was in the mail, Papa. Oh well, he sighs.
With pages left in the novel, the tension builds. Zacharias informs Shaw, who is completing the painting of the ceiling of his studio, that Carlota the witch had predicted that his check would arrive the next day.
Rosita shows up at the Resting Place, a bar, and screams that the check, for $36,000, has indeed arrived. The news floors Zacharias: “He held the check and stared. … He stared as if in shock, which of course he was. Then the check began to shake violently in his hands, and Zacharias fell off the (drinking) pole backward in a faint.”
He recovers with the help of a drink. Of course. Then the fun commences.
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