When I was in high school and reading a lot of Louis L'Amour novels, I heard somewhere that Elmer Kelton was an even better western writer.
After (finaWhen I was in high school and reading a lot of Louis L'Amour novels, I heard somewhere that Elmer Kelton was an even better western writer.
After (finally) reading one of his books, the jury's still out, but there's no question that he's a fine storyteller and a good prose stylist.
Texas Rifles takes place in 1861. The Texas Mounted Rifles, which are a precursor to the Texas Rangers, are making the frontier safe for settlers by warring against the Comanche. Or at least they're trying. They're a small outfit, led by a hard, unbending captain named Barcroft. They're also an uneasy mix of Unionists, Confederate loyalists, and Texans with no interest in fighting in the War Between the States.
Cloud is a member of this last group. He dislikes Barcroft, but knows he doesn't have another choice, and figures serving with the Rifles and fighting the Comanches is better than serving in the Confederacy and fighting the Yankees.
However, when the Rifles discover a white woman named Easter who was kidnapped by the Comanches as a young girl and forced to take a husband, Barcroft takes her back with them, but forces her to leave her half-Comanche baby behind.
This inhuman action sickens Cloud, but there's little he can do.
Like all good storytellers, though, Kelton adds layers to Barcroft's character as the novel goes on, and while he never becomes fully likable, he does grow to be sympathetic.
Texas Rifles is a bloody novel, but never gratuitous. Kelton writes good dialogue, well-crafted prose, and is able to describe the west lovingly without ever lapsing into Zane Grey-style hysterics.
Texas Rifles isn't a great novel, but it's a good one, and the next time I feel like reading a western I'll probably pick up one by Kelton....more
I borrowed this from a friend because I recently watched André de Toth's excellent 1947 western Ramrod, which was based on a novel by Luke Short, anI borrowed this from a friend because I recently watched André de Toth's excellent 1947 western Ramrod, which was based on a novel by Luke Short, an author whom I'd never read before.
The Whip, which was originally published in 1957 as Doom Cliff (both are good titles, but for different reasons), was a lot like the film Ramrod, and even though this is the only Luke Short novel I've read, I think I have a pretty good handle on his themes.
Every male character in The Whip is either unreliable and selfish or vicious and evil. Everyone, that is, but the protagonist, Will Gannon.
Gannon is hired by the Midland Stage Company to bring order to the chaotic line, which runs east of Salt Lake City and into Colorado. The Midland has drunken drivers, enormous piles of undelivered mail, lazy station agents, totally erratic arrival times, and workers who are owed back pay. It's controlled by the division agent, Lou Maydet, who runs it as a sideline to his numerous illegal operations.
After a passenger is murdered and robbed in his hotel room, Gannon smells an inside job, and takes to restoring order with threats, intimidation, and bullets.
Gannon's fatal flaws are his anger and his inflexibility. These work for him when he's whipping lazy drivers and station agents into shape, but when he and Maydet begin fighting a war of attrition, it leads to several killings (including a cold-blooded hanging carried out by Gannon and his sidekick, who's guilted into doing it by Gannon).
Throughout the narrative, Short asks the reader to consider whether order is worth the violence necessary to achieve it. In this way, The Whip is the story of the taming of the West in miniature, which I liked. But in the last few paragraphs, everything works out more neatly for Will Gannon than it has any right to, which is why I deducted a star....more
This is the best of Elmore Leonard's westerns that I've read so far. He expertly uses the "they didn't know who they were messing with" concept that hThis is the best of Elmore Leonard's westerns that I've read so far. He expertly uses the "they didn't know who they were messing with" concept that he would later put to such great effect in one of his best crime novels, 52 Pick-Up....more
Lonesome Dove is the best western novel I've ever read. It doesn't contain the sublime satire of Thomas Berger's Little Big Man, its prose isn't as beLonesome Dove is the best western novel I've ever read. It doesn't contain the sublime satire of Thomas Berger's Little Big Man, its prose isn't as beautiful as Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, and it doesn't engage in mythmaking on the same scale as McCarthy's Border Trilogy, but it stands head and shoulders over those works (the other western novels I've read that I consider really great books) in terms of sheer storytelling. The situations and places in Lonesome Dove are vividly rendered, and the characters--both major and minor--all feel like real people just a page or two after meeting them. And they continue to live and to grow as the novel goes on.
Unlike everyone I know who's read Lonesome Dove, I haven't seen the nearly universally acclaimed 1989 miniseries based on it (although I have seen the miniseries adaptations of McMurtry's two prequels, Dead Man's Walk and Comanche Moon, both of which were decent TV movies, but not fantastic). I'm looking forward to seeing it some day, but not right away. For right now, I just want to let this amazing story and its memorable characters percolate in my mind, unhindered by any associations....more
I started reading Blood Meridian in 1999, but couldn't get past the halfway mark. I picked it up again last year and made it about two thirds of the wI started reading Blood Meridian in 1999, but couldn't get past the halfway mark. I picked it up again last year and made it about two thirds of the way through. I picked it up again last month and finally finished it. I really loved this book, and I think it may be McCarthy's best (at least among the ones I've read--I still haven't read The Road or Suttree). I usually read his novels from beginning to end pretty quickly, but this one confounded me for awhile. I think the major reason it took me so long to get through Blood Meridian is its constant stomach-churning violence, including wholesale massacres, scalpings, infanticide, rape, dismemberment, and cannibalism. Major sections of this book are harder to read than UN reports on civil war and genocide. I'm not the only person to feel this way. Harold Bloom, who called Blood Meridian the strongest and most memorable novel by a living American writer, admitted that it took him several attempts to finish reading it on account of the violence. Not being Harold Bloom, however, I also found the density and weight of the book's prose hard to penetrate. I don't think it's overwritten or wordy, but it's extremely layered and demands very close attention. Anyway, now that I've finally read the whole thing, I'm really looking forward to reading it again someday. Despite the overwhelming violence, Blood Meridian is beautiful and surreal, and probably the best "western" ever written. Also, there are a lot of clever, almost satiric, parallels with Moby Dick, but I don't want to give anything away if you haven't read it yet....more