Yee-haw! We rustled up some purty interesting books for our wild Western genre discussion this last time around! Our books were filled with big conflicts, but equally big resolutions, and flawed heroes you can’t help but appreciate. At first appearance this might seem like a fairly narrow group of books, with little variety possible. After you read the descriptions of what everyone read I think you’ll see what a misconception that is. So are you ready to become a fan of the western genre?
Megan: Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt tells the story of Eli and Charles Sisters, the notorious henchman of the mysterious Commodore. When they are charged with killing one Hermann Kermit Warm, they must journey from Oregon City to Sacramento, California. Along the way Eli, who does not share his brother’s love of whiskey, women, and killing, begins to question his career choice. This western noir novel pays homage to classic westerns through a colorful cast of characters who convey the violence, lust and greed associated with the gold rush era. The humor and philosophical musings are an entirely unexpected, but welcome treat. Not your typical western, this is a story of brotherhood, blood ties, and redemption.
Emma: Riders of the Purple Sage was written by Zane Grey in 1912. It’s 1871 in southern Utah, and Berne Venters is about to be whipped by Elder Tull for befriending Jane Withersteen. Jim Lassiter, a Texas gunfighter, stops the whipping before it begins. Tull wants to marry wealthy Jane and take over her cattle and land. Jane is not interested in Tull, so he plots with Oldring to have her cattle stampeded and her riders intimidated. Berne goes after Oldring and his men, killing Oldring and wounding a masked rider. The masked rider turns out to be Bess, Lassiter’s niece. Bess had been taken from her mother, Lassister’s sister Millie, when she three years old. This is a happy ever after story for Bess and Berne who fall in love and leave Utah and for Jane and Lassiter who also fall in love. This was Zane Grey’s bestselling and best-known novel.
Ann: Juliet in August by Dianne Warren is a novel told as a series of stories about the people of Juliet, Saskatchewan on a particular day in August. Juliet is a sleepy little prairie town at the edge of the Little Snake Sand Hills, which is actually desert land. We meet people such as Lee Torgeson who reminisces about how Astrid, his adoptive mother, found him on her doorstep in a laundry basket (she actually at first mistook him for a tom cat!) There is Willard and his sister-in-law Marian. They run the local drive-in movie theater, and Marian sometimes watches the movie from the house’s big picture window. People in the town are tied to the land and their animals. The pace of the book is slow and leisurely, and the writing is rich and beautiful. While set in the present, the novel has a very western feel, and the author, who is Canadian, says the book is informed by the western books and movies she grew up with.
Carol: The Thicket by Joe Lansdale, set in the early 1900s in East Texas, opens as 16-year-old Jack Parker’s parents die of smallpox. Only a few pages later, Jack’s grandfather is killed by a troupe of bank robbing ruffians who also kidnap Jack’s sister Lula . Jack enlists a grave robber named Eustace and dwarf bounty hunter named Shorty to help him find Lula, and the bloodthirsty revenge begins. Filled with gritty, sharp, well-written dialogue, wicked dark humor, violence, sex, and strong language, this book is definitely not for the faint of heart. That said, this western had me laughing out loud as I read, and I could not put it down until it’s bloody end.
Steve: The Californios, by Louis L’Amour, finds the Mulkerin family trying desperately to save their pre-gold rush Malibu ranch, which has fallen in to debt after the death of the father. The family knows that in the past their father had ventured out in to the wilderness with a secretive Indian known as the Old One, and on occasion the Mulkerin patriarch had brought back gold from these trips. The Old One trusts the son, Sean, but will Sean be able to find the much needed gold before the bandits take the ranch? Find out and see if you enjoy the elements of mysticism that are sprinkled into this adventurous Western.
Dori: The Son: A Novel by Phillip Meyer is a family saga that spans 200 years ands documents the fortunes and misfortunes of the McCullough family of Texas. Three members of the family narrate the tale, beginning with Eli McCullough who, at age 13, is taken captive by the Comanches after the brutal murder of his family. Adapting to their way of life, he becomes a respected tribal member only to have to return to Anglo society when his tribe begins to die out. Shaped by his survival skills, he buys land, becoming a successful cattle rancher and then discovers oil. Peter, Eli’s grandson, struggles with the tradition of violence that is his family’s legacy, specifically the murder of a neighboring Tejano family. The third narrator is feisty, independent Jeanne who grew up at Eli’s knee, hearing his stories and idolizing him. She takes the family into the present, inheriting their money and their unhappiness. A fascinating, detailed story of the power, greed, and violence that is part of American history.
Chris: The Arbor House Treasury of Great Western Stories edited by Bill Pronzini and Marin H. Greenberg is an impressive collection. I was surprised to learn that some great writers like Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Stephen Crane and O. Henry also wrote westerns and are featured in this book. I gravitated toward “I Woke Up Wicked” by Dorothy M. Johnson—one of a small number of women who write westerns. It starts out innocently—A young puncher meets up with a crooked relative (a deputy) while waiting for the bank to open so the trail boss can pay off the men. He’s standing by the sheriff’s horse while his relative goes in to see if the bank is open for business. Suddenly there’s the sound of gunfire, the relative and a few others burst out of the bank and leap onto horses. The puncher jumps on the sheriff’s horse right behind. That moment, he becomes a bank robber and a horse thief. And the wickedness continues.
Stacey: I also read The Son by Philip Meyer. Dori did such a good job with her description I can only add: this book offers plenty of family drama, fascinating historical information, and more than a few surprises along the way.
And next time? We’re getting ready for the Holidays by selecting stories based on or around the upcoming winter celebrations, aka the Holiday Stories Genre! Would you like to read along? Then why not come in and take a look for a new or classic story that features the holiday season and get ready for a fairly tame -but mostly happy?- discussion!