The Second Coming of Jesse James
During the Great Depression, people lost more than their life savings. They lost hope. They romanticized the rebel outlaws who operated outside the system: John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson. Jack Carpenter, a third-rate bank robber hailed by the common folk as the reincarnation of Jesse James, tries to live up to his own myth, a path leading to both tragedy and redemption. More
During the Great Depression, people lost more than their life savings. They lost hope. Betrayed by their faith in government, industry, and even God, they romanticized the rebel outlaws who operated outside the system: John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson.
In the novel "The Second Coming of Jesse James", the common people hail Jack Carpenter – hell-raiser, moonshiner, and third-rate bank robber – as a latter-day Jesse James sent to deliver them from the scourge of banks and other “vested interests.” When Jack tries to live up to his own myth, he sets out on a path leading to both tragedy and redemption.
As a young man, Jack Carpenter is quite content living a life slightly outside the law. He not only makes the best white lightning in the Missouri Ozarks, he’s also the only moonshiner who’s never been caught by the law.
After losing his money in a card game, Jack impulsively robs a gas station. On the way home, his truck is forced off a bridge and crashes into the river below. When he’s saved by a mysterious stranger , Jack wonders if there might be something more to life than making moonshine and chasing women.
During a revival meeting, Jack meets Ansee Bliss, a young woman anxious to leave the confines of small town life. What begins as a lark ends in love. Even though he knows she’s the girlfriend of his best friend Madison Bates, Jack continues to court her in secret. Just after he declares his love for her, Jack’s arrested and convicted for the gas station robbery . With Jack gone, Madison marries Ansee Bliss, and she soon bears a son.
At Wildernest Prison, thrown in the hole for his rebelliousness, Jack experiences hallucinatory visions of an angelic Ansee – an idealized vision that helps him survive his hellish surroundings. Another source of support is Reverend Rattles, a colorful preacher turned bank robber whose wry philosophy dovetails with Jack's cynicism.
Paroled after six years, Jack has no idea what to do with his life. Once the reverend busts out, the two join forces, roaming the country robbing banks. After a comically rough start, they become quite good at it. Newspapers soon liken Jack to Jesse James. Reverend Rattles must constantly remind him that he is a mere bank robber, not some hero of the people.
By the time Jack finally returns to his home town, he has become famous. He visits his old friend Madison Bates, who’s struggling to make a go of a farm with his wife, Ansee, and their son, Lucas. Despite the passing years, Jack realizes he’s still passionately in love with Ansee. She, however, feels he betrayed her and wants nothing to do with him.
To help Madison save his farm, Jack and Rattles rob another bank. This time, it all goes wrong. Although they survive a shoot-out in which both are wounded, Jack and Rattles cannot shake the laws off their trail. Just when it seems they’re out of luck, a case of mistaken identity offers the pair a chance to start life with a clean slate. Jack, however, chooses the role of hero, and Reverend Rattles abandons him to his fate.
Jack returns to his hometown – and to Ansee. This time she succumbs to his declarations of undying love, and they secretly resume their affair. All too clearly, she sees Jack as a mere man, a man whom she deeply loves, and tries to save him from the people who clamor for a savior. Jack, flush with bank money, helps Madison save the farm. By and by, Madison suspects Jack may be seeing his wife behind his back, eventually leading him to betray his best friend, the hero of the people.