Monday, July 6, 2015

The Summer of Reading Westerns - June reads

About a month ago I posted some thoughts on the western. The summer of reading westerns continues so I thought I'd check in with what westerns I read in June.

.44 by H.A. DeRosso (1953) - It's easy to see why so many crime folks recommend this one. It's basically a classic, mid-20th century noir dressed up as a western. It can be a little tough to continue buying the protag's continued staying in the town but, recognized as the noir that it is, this is an easy enough hurdle to cross and the doomed ride becomes fun in it's own way. Recommended

The Searchers by Alan LeMay (1954) - This is one of those books that is hard to talk about without mentioning the movie. If you put the race issue aside for a moment, I've always thought the movie had its problems. Part of that is that Ethan (Amos in the book) dominates the movie so much. The book is told in a tight 3rd person pov from Martin's perspective, so the Mart character in the book is a far better character, with a lot of nice character growth, and worth the price admission alone. There's also some scenes that are gripping. One in particular is Amos and Mart trapped in a gulch by a blizzard for 60 hours. Just a fantastic scene. Is Ethan/Amos racist? and Is The Searchers racist? are two questions that have surrounded the movie for years. Is The Searchers (book) and it's author racist? I'm punting and will say that is thoughts for another day. Highly Recommended.

Death of a Gunfighter by Lewis B Patten (1955) - Good book that deals effectively with the idea of the aged gunfighter and his place in society as it progresses. In this case the town gave the gunfighter the Sheriff job to clean up the town, and then told him he could keep it for as long as he wanted since he did such a good job. Now they want him out, and he doesn't want to go. Patten explores both sides of this issue and swings the reader's loyalties from one side to the other. Recommended. 

Monte Walsh by Jack Schaefer (1963) - Schaefer's Shane always gets the praise but Monte Walsh may be the better book (I read Shane year's ago and will be re-reading it this summer). Schaefer wrote some short stories about Monte Walsh that were then collected together and tied up together as the novel Monte Walsh. So the novel has a very episodic feel. Monte Walsh is an intimate epic, where one man's life represents the entire old west. Not only is the book a rousing story and very moving at times but Schaefer can actually write, so Monte Walsh utilizes a number of different literary techniques and modes by which to tell the story. Monte Walsh is an unheralded great American novel. Highly Recommended.

Gospel of the Bullet by Chris Leek (2014)
Gunmen by Timothy Friend (2015) - Straight forward westerns. My only observation of note (not a criticism) is that they both feel like the beginnings of larger stories rather than full stop stories. Maybe the authors will revisit these stories and characters at a later date. Recommended

Paradise Sky by Joe Lansdale (2015) - Lansdale's tribute to the black cowboys that rode in the west. This is a big old Texas yarn that is at times funny, harrowing, moving, goofy. Recommended.

Pig Iron by David James Keaton (2015) - What the hell is Pig Iron? Part absurdist western, part goof, part homage to western movies, part fleshing out of a Marty Robbins song. Sure, all of that and more. Some part of Pig Iron work better then others but it is a highly imaginative, highly original, highly fantastical western that is, at its best, a lot of fun. Recommended (but may not be for everyone).

Haints Stay by Colin Winnette (2015) - Haints Stay is a dark, moody, modern, revisionist western that is tonally related to the Sisters Brothers. Chances are if you liked The Sisters Brothers you'll be inclined to like this one too. One of the problems with revisionist westerns post Blood Meridian is that they all think that they are the first one to try and turn the genre on it's head. Revisionist westerns continue to trickle out, a couple a year or one every couple of years, and each occurrence is treated as if it's the best thing since...well... the last time it was done. And I say this as someone who likes a good revisionist western (which, btw, first started getting published as far back as the 50's). Recommended.

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Can I recommend Glen Frankel's book:THE MAKING OF THE SEARCHERS, which looks at the incident, the book and the movie. Fabulous.