Friday, December 11, 2020

The Wanderer’s Havamal by Jackson Crawford

 


People’s approval ain’t nothin’ you need.

Half the time it ain’t true.

Just be sure you think you’re right;

and that you’re comfortable in your own skin;

you’re all you can count on.

Well, here we have a gorgeous change of pace. Nordic scholar, Jackson Crawford, provides a bracing translation of the Old Norse poem, The Havamal.

He has titled his translation, “The Wanderer’s Havamal” and on each facing page of the English translation we can view the Old Norse text directly from the Codex Regius manuscript.

For those not in the know, The Havamal, is a sort of short “Code of Conduct” for Vikings. It is idiosyncratic in places but still has a vast amount of common-sense wisdom to convey.

I have read many an Old Saga in my time, but I include this one here as Mr. Crawford concludes with another iteration of The Havamal that he has limned in rangehand colloquial English in honor of his plain-spoken grandfather, June Crawford.

This translation is titled The Cowboy Havamal and reads as if drawled from the lips of The Duke himself.

A short read, a fine read, and, what’s more, possibly a vitally important read.

Friday, December 4, 2020

What Western Do I Read Next by Wayne Barton

 


Actually the full title reads: What Western Do I Read Next-A Reader’s Guide to Recent Western Fiction.

This large volume [my copy is 545 pages] is less a book of reviews than a “If you liked this book or that author here are five more titles you may enjoy.”

The book also provides appendices that break novels down according to theme.

·         Time Period Index

·         Geographic Index

·         Story Type Index

·         Character Name Index

·         Character Description Index

·         Author Index

·         Title Index

So, if you ever say to yourself, “I’d love to read a novel set in 1830’s East Texas about a main character who happens to be a doctor” now you have a resource to lead you aright.

If there is a weakness to the volume [and it is no weakness as the range of novels covered is described in the title] it is this very narrow range itself.

The chosen volume skews hard to novels published in the late70s to early 90s period.

While useful for this time period it leaves one wishing there was a second volume that encompassed the prolific decades prior.

Beyond that advertised quibble it is a mighty useful browsing reference for hardcore fans of the genre.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Bravados by Frank O’ Rourke

 


Evening sunset was a magic time when peace grew actual shape and substance, as sweet as sugar to the sense. Only in the courthouse, the bastion of blindfolded justice on the plaza, was the sense of peace destroyed.

Another of O’Rourke’s spare, hard-edged but downright poetic efforts.

A formula tale of three desperadoes and the woman they take as hostage on one side.

On the other, a determined man and a strong-willed woman give pursuit.

Familiar in many regards but rendered a cut above by the talented author.

It is a good read, but I admit I am always comparing O’Rourke to himself. His novel, The Last Chance [also reviewed in this blog] is easily one of my favorite Western novels.

This work is no Last Chance, but it’s a fine afternoon all the same.

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Hard Homesteader by Clayton Fox

 


“There is always country like that,” he said. “The old-timers come in and grab the best land. They fight the Indians and the country until they get the country the way they want it. Then they try to keep it from changing. Just as the Indians tried to keep it from changing. Change is bound to come, but it has to be fought over.”

My first experience with this author but it won’t be my last.

It is, on one hand, a formulaic tale of Stranger in town butting heads with the powers that be, but on the other hand, there are many less than formulaic choices made by the characters that keep one interested.

The people are rich and full-blooded and Fox not allowing them to follow an ABC mode of action makes for a richer than standard reading experience.

It is no classic, but it is also not dispensable fare.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Adventurers by Ernest Haycox

 


A rock-solid later work from a master of the genre.

Haycox’s later novels mark a break with the formulaic tales and settings of the West and see the author exploring less than usual terrain, both geographical and internally. Here we have shipwrecks, logging in the Pacific Northwest, the economics and dynamics of running a sawmill, but…

Where many authors allow such details to be an info dump where they use their research as proof of authenticity, Haycox always places character first.

To my mind he is one of THE top male western authors when it comes to limning female character.

A gorgeous addition to the man’s legacy.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The White Rhino Hotel by Bartle Bull

 


Your boots carry fresh red dust. Your foolish English trousers are torn. From the British only one thing I have learned: always in Africa to wear shorts. All the rest they have learned from me. In shorts, the thorns do not stop you, and there is less noise when you stalk. Your skin is not important. It will mend itself.”

Not strictly a Western, but most definitely a novel of the Frontier, in this case The African Frontier.

The novel is first in a trilogy set in East Africa spanning from the end of the First World war into the Second Global conflict.

The reader can not help but notice the numerous parallels with novels of the American Westward expansion, the encounters with wildlife, the hazards and blessings of indigenous people’s interactions, the “good men” and the outlaw.

The novel may have a stiff-upper lip tone in places but the intimate knowledge of the land and people as well as the sweep of story, in turns majestic in others outright kinky, the reader is easily swept along with the epic.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Six-Gun Justice Podcast

 


If you are the sort who reads blogs such as this one, then likely you are also the sort who will listen to two knowledgeable gents dig into the history and background of the Western fiction genre.

Those two savvy gents are Paul Bishop and Richard Prosch.

Each episode is a bit of a deep dive into the offered topic and allows we over-the-top Western readers to still be immersed in the genre even when eyes are not on pages.

Enough yakking from me, have a listen.

www.sixgunjustice.com

FYI-You can find an interview Mr. Bishop did for this very blog in our archives and yet another chat with Mr. Bishop on altogether different topics at my other blog Indigenous Ability [my day job of historical violence.] https://indigenousability.blogspot.com/

Hot Lead: Most Wanted All Review Special Edited by Justin Marriott

 

I offer no prefacing quote here. We do that to give the flavor of a work of fiction so we can tell if a work may or may not be up our individual taste alley.

Likely if your eyes are on this blog, then you already know that this book is up your alley.

200+ reviews, a handful of essays and background on topics pertaining to the genre.

But what makes this volume a prize is that you’ll find classic Western works alongside more pulpy or formulaic offerings.

You’ll find Owen Wister treated with the same regard as George Gilman.

That leveling of regard is the strength of this volume, it does not pick and choose sides, it merely seeks to say “I read this, here’s what I think.”

For aficionados of the genre, a browser’s paradise.

Texas Outlaw by Richard Jessup

 


Because he knew how to organize things, Burt Anderson, took over the cleaning up of the main street. The dead numbered six, the wounded eleven. Seven horses, two mules, and five wagons had been destroyed. Seven of the Indians had been killed, and five of their ponies. They removed the wounded to the saloon and the dead to the livery stable because it was the coolest place in town. The Indians were dragged by their heels through the dust at the end of a rope and dumped without comment in a hastily dug communal hole half a mile outside of town. The horses were dragged to the flats, soaked with coal oil, and set afire. Anderson worked tirelessly, and as much of his effort went into consoling the widowed women who had lost husbands and the mothers who had lost sons as into attempting to get Fury back on its feet.

I’m of two minds regarding this rugged Fawcett Gold Medal offering from 1958.

On the one hand, the action, the internal lives of men and women under stress and duress is ably and admirably played as in the offered paragraph that heads this review.

On the other hand, there is a bit of hampering [to this reader’s mind] and that hampering comes from a shoehorning of soap opera machinations.

A good opening third of the novel is mired in these melodramatic pawns on chessboard maneuverings.

The last two thirds are where this novel comes to life. It is alive with events. Alive with the interiors of people in response to those events. It is here that the novel shines.

If one has a tolerance for the opening shenanigans, a reader is likely to find much to enjoy here.

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Black Wolf's Breed by Harris Dickson


FRANCE—In the old world and in the new! The France of romance and glory under Henry of Navarre; of pride and glitter under Louis XIV, in whose reign was builded, under the silver lilies, that empire—Louisiana—in the vague, dim valley of the Mississippi across the sea: these are the scenes wherein this drama shall be played. Through these times shall run the tale which follows. Times when a man's good sword was ever his truest friend, when he who fought best commanded most respect. It was the era of lusty men——the weak went to the wall.

King and courtier; soldier and diplomat; lass and lady; these are the people with whom this story deals. If, therefore, you find brave fighting and swords hanging too loosely in their sheaths; if honor clings round an empty shadow and the women seem more fair than honest, I pray you remember when these things did happen, who were the actors, and the stage whereon they played.

As we can tell from that opening salvo this novel is different than our standard western fare. If we include Louis Lamour’s lovely designation of “Frontier” novel rather than the more limiting label of “Western” more such intriguing gems from the early days East of the Mississippi come to light.

This 1901 novel bears the full title of The Black Wolf's Breed A Story of France in the Old World and the New, happening in the Reign of Louis XIV. Our hero is a hardy frontiersman of French descent who serves under the governor of the Louisiana Territory, Bienville. We venture into the wilderness of Louisiana and Mississippi just after LaSalle made his voyage down the Mississippi River.

We are treated to woodland warfare with Choctaws by our hero’s side, he is sent on a secret mission to the courts of France, engages in duels, crosses back across the Atlantic aboard a privateer to engage in yet more derring do with battles between the French and Spanish along the Florida Coast all with “painted savages” in the midst.

It is a novel of its time, and its age shows but there is a verve to it.

A few asides from our hero give more of the flavor.

“A still tongue, a clear head and a sharp blade are the tools of Fortune."

The pert little lads who idled about the hall began to make sport of me concerning my dress, and laughed greatly at their own wit. I paid no heed to their foolish gibes, there being no man among them.”

“We men of the forest accustomed to the rough ways of a camp, and looking not for insult, are slow to anger.”

"Spit the thief, run him through," came from one of those behind—for the rear guard, beyond the reach of steel, was ever loud and brave.

Youth and health do not long lie idle.

What say you to an adventure?"

Two fools like ourselves might perchance stumble blindly upon what a wise man would overlook,"

"Ah! a soldier; so interesting in these stupid times, when men are little but women differently dressed.

He approached Madame at the table with a semblance of that swagger affected by the weakling in presence of women.

"M. Jerome has favored us, you know—we have no drones here," she went on pleasantly, "and it is the rule at Sceaux that all must join our merriment."

While not quite as strong as the best of Rafael Sabatini or Dumas in good translation, it was mighty pleasing to this reader to encounter the unsheathed sword derring do of the classic swashbuckler with a hale and hearty frontiersman bearing the blade.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Fort Starvation by Frank Gruber


Fedderson and Vickers exchanged glances. Vickers said, “He don’t scare me.”

Fedderson nodded thoughtfully, “He don’t seem scared either.”

This one is a bit of a puzzle for me. The novel shows up as a stellar achievement in the genre on at least two lists, one by Jon Lewis and the other from Jon Tuska. Both men with a deep knowledge of the Western and who’s tastes have steered me well more often than not but…this choice mystifies me.

We have a tale of vengeance, years long searches and confrontation—standard fare for many a fine Western but here the author seems practically bored with his own plot.

Entire battles are dispensed with in cast-off sentences, important interactions between characters are often told after the fact in a “They met and had words, now let’s move on” sense.

This is my first from Gruber, who was rather prolific, and I would love to think he has better offerings.

One of the rare occasions when I simply do not understand the appeal.

The Gruber fans out there are welcome to suggest the “best” title and I’ll make another go.

If no suggestions, I’ll steer clear and I suggest the same here. There are far better novels than this casually indifferent affair.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Head of the Mountain by Ernest Haycox


“Pain is an awful thing,” she said.

“After it goes away a curtain comes down and you can’t bring back how bad it was. Otherwise we’d all be cowards.”

This slim novel from a master of the genre was originally serialized in 1950-51 in the pages of Esquire magazine. You’ll find Haycox’s usual full-blooded men, well-drawn women in this tale of theft along a stage line in the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve always been an admirer of Haycox and find his “man in the elements” passages particularly engaging. His blizzard sequence in the excellent Bugles in the Afternoon comes immediately to mind, only adventure-write Alistair MacLean seems to match the man for describing the harshness of cold weather.

As usual his literary scoutcraft is on hand…

“Rawson spotted the man’s tracks as soon as he came upon them for with him, as with any riding man, the day and its changes was a book of great interest, whose sometimes cryptic passages  challenged his ability to understand them.”

With all this praise for Haycox himself, I’ll admit I found this novel hard going even with the brief page count. In part that may be due to the decision by Bantam Paperbacks to format it without chapters or breaks between switches in time, locale, or scene. The reader is often flowing along nicely and then we must bring ourselves out of the story to settle ourselves into new terrain.

Likely a far better book if formatted with care.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Latigo by Frank O’Rourke


“I want you to see the town,” Addis said. “You’ll feel more at home tomorrow.”
“We can’t see much at night.”

“You can see it all,” Addis said mildly. “You’ve got to smell a strange town, feel it in your bones; hear the dogs bark, count the saloons and the stores, listen to the wind on the street and notice the pickle barrel on the depot platform.”

“I can see it all tomorrow,” he said.

“No,” Addis said. “You’ve got to look at a town like you judge a woman. Appearance is mostly what she wants you to see in her. And towns are like women. You’ve got to look underneath, look for the character when you meet a woman. Not her face or her size. You see what you think is in the woman. If you see just the body, the face, you see nothing. And a town is like a woman.”

I am an unabashed Frank O’Rourke fan. He novel The Last Chance [also reviewed on this blog] is easily in my top ten favorite Western novels.

He offers easy unforced authenticity in his action, but it is his facile offhand remarks and insights into character that mark his breed. Small vignettes like the above that give much of his work a mature flavor that raises it above the mere formulaic shoot ‘em up.

He allows these little homilies to inform who each character is, often allowing us to find the size of them through a single act, remark, thought or gesture.

Upon witnessing a soiled dove falling in the street…

“Jim do you think we should have helped?”

“Her?”

“She was in the mud. Did you see the bruises on her legs?”

“You’ve got a quick eye, Tom.”

“I didn’t mean that,” Ellington said.

“I know it…but she went back for more.”

“But why, Jim?”

Addis bit off the tip of a wrinkled cigar, licked the dry outer leaf, and scratched a match on the rosetted neck of the wooden horse guarding the harness shop door.

“Human nature, Tom. Think she’d be in that dive if she didn’t enjoy the life? She grew up, maybe she sang in a choir like that one over yonder. Whatever happened, she didn’t say no. She had a man, some more men, she went on the town. She was in the mud tonight, she’ll be in the mud again. You can’t change people, Tom. That’s why I never interfere.”

O’Rourke’s observations remind me of John D. MacDonald’s wry commentary found in his late 50’s and early 60’s work. And the MacDonald comparison is apt, as this novel plays more as a noir tale than a strict oater.

While not O’Rourke’s best, still mighty mighty strong.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday by David Corbett


If there is one thing I’ve gathered from experience, whether during the war or at Mother’s sickbed or out here in the railheads and cow towns, it is that there is nothing to distinguish a good life from a bad life, there is just life, and it must be lived. I cannot help at times but wonder if your Romanist faith is not a kind of armor against the terrible ambiguities of a life lived simply, fully, honestly, without pretense of nobility or purpose. When I lingered near death, and felt the immanent, infinite coldness entering my core, I found no solace whatsoever in pieties. Rather, what comfort came to me arrived solely through the relentless will to defy the odds and continue the meager reckless enterprise of my existence.

This novel is one curious amalgamation of neo-Western, court procedural, treatise on art forgery, historical reconstruction and Lee Child style shoot ‘em up.

Corbett clearly has skill and the research is top-notch but, for this reader, not all elements hold water, I found the extended action set-pieces a bit tedious, akin to reading a description of a John Wick film rather than the simple pleasure of viewing one.

A novel composed with such skill does not deserve a simple cast-off review and I wager mileage will vary for other readers, but while briskly paced I found it harder and harder to maintain interest as it went along.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry


Though he had always been a careful planner, life on the frontier had long ago convinced him of the fragility of plans. The truth was, most plans did fail, to one degree or another, for one reason or another. He had survived as a Ranger because he was quick to respond to what he had actually found, not because his planning was infallible.

What can be said of a book that is likely familiar to most?

It can be wagered that many know it by reputation or from viewing of many of its TV incarnations.
It would be a shame if that passing familiarity were all that were tasted as a deep dive into the hundreds of pages of this novel pays rewards in ways that the moving image cannot, no matter how well that image is limned.

Let’s take one scene, from both, one that likely most viewers are familiar with, the river crossing that ends in the tragic death of a young Irish cowboy by multiple snakebite.

Call knelt by the boy, helpless to do one thing for him. It was the worst luck — to come all the way from Ireland and then ride into a swarm of water moccasins. 

Call said nothing. The boy’s age had nothing to do with what had happened, of course; even an experienced man, riding into such a mess of snakes, wouldn’t have survived. He himself might not have, and he had never worried about snakes. It only went to show what he already knew, which was that there were more dangers in life than even the sharpest training could anticipate. Allen O’Brien should waste no time on guilt, for a boy could die in Ireland as readily as elsewhere, however safe it might appear.

‘It seems too quick,’ he said. ‘It seems very quick, just to ride off and leave the boy. He was the babe of our family,’ he added. 

‘If we was in town we’d have a fine funeral,’ Augustus said. ‘But as you can see, we ain’t in town. There’s nothing you can do but kick your horse.’ 

The novel has a depth that strikes one as more than mere entertainment. Truly one for the ages.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

City of Widows by Loren D. Estleman


I turned in time to see the last of perhaps a dozen women step off the boardwalk on the other side of the street and turn in the direction of the mission. They were dressed all in black from bonnets to shoes, their black hems dragging like crows’ wings in the dust of the street. One or two fingered rosaries; the rest clutched their shawls at the throat and stared straight ahead as they walked, moving with a kind of bicycling gait that raised a yellow plume in their wake. The group swept along like some low-hanging cloud and seemed to drain the life from everything it passed.

One of Estelman’s long-running Page Murdock series which, like Max Allan Collins’ PI Nate Heller series, places a fictional protagonist in the midst of well-researched actual events and personages.

Estleman has been around a long time and I’ll admit there is some of his work that strikes me cold while professional and at others, this being one of them, he strikes me as one of the best in the genre.
This is a mighty entertaining genre Western well above the standard formulaic fare.

I can offer no better praise than the blurb on the cover of the paperback copy from Elmore “Dutch” Leonard himself.

“I was going to see how City of Widows opens and read 55 pages. It’s a honey.”

It is indeed.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Missing by Sam Hawken


Gonzalo took a few desultory bites and then put his fork down. ‘I never saw this as a game, Jack. I did what I had to do because that is the way things are supposed to be carried out. We don’t live in the Wild West. Mexico has laws. Maybe they aren’t well enforced, but we have to at least try, otherwise there would be anarchy.’

Sam Hawken delivers a neo-noir south of the Border contemporary Western that is a riff on Alan LeMay’s The Searchers.

Here, we have an everyman type, a building contractor widower in Laredo, Texas who is attempting to do right by his job and in the raising of his two stepdaughters.

When one goes missing in a brief visit to Mexican relatives, our protagonist seeks every legal and just method to find the girl. We feel his heartache, his anguish, his sense of duty to both the girl and the promise he made to his late wife.

When these methods fail, we proceed to the final section of the book subtitled “Off the Chain” and that descriptor does little justice to what is done.

This is a well-done neo-Western that reminds one of Don Winslow but writ small. That smallness is not an indication of effect, simply that our attention is laser focused on one man and his burden of duty.

Exceptionally well done.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Gentle Annie by MacKinlay Kantor


When we reached the place where Cotton had left his horse and buggy, we had a few moments’ conversation. The Goss brothers spoke with rare feeling about Charley Tatum and what had happened in the bar. They swore seriously and calmly, with astonishing fluency. I was to find that this was a habit they practiced by themselves; in some strange fashion it accounted for the cleanliness of their talk when they were with women or strangers or with people whom they did not like. To be admitted to a swearing bout by the Goss boys was a rare privilege; it marked one’s acceptance by them.


A Western by the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning Andersonville. I’ll confess I have not yet read Andersonville and I will also confess that this novel, my first visit with Mr. Kantor does not have me rushing to the next title.


This novel of a train-robbery investigation starts beautifully, and one knows they are in capable hands, but as it continues, we are introduced to a love-rectangle that confounds in both believability and its apparent purity.


So much time is spent on the soap opera of how these genteel amorous mechanics work that I was a bit exasperated. One is left scratching the head wondering how any single man, let alone three feel so strongly for such an exasperatingly fickle character.


We add to this concatenation of curious emotions an askew morality regarding family dynamics and robbery that we are to assume the author wishes us to sympathize with.


The fault may be this reader, but I found this novel, while well-written, a chore to finish.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Cry Dance by Kirk Mitchell


“Forgive my petulance this evening, Mr. Parker. I have this overwhelming feeling I’ll be out of a job this time next week.’

‘Well, you were looking for a job when you found this one, right?’”

Author, Kirk Mitchell, possesses a law-enforcement background and a familiarity with the areas of which he writes. This was the inaugural volume of a modern-day mystery-series featuring Bureau of Indian Affairs investigator, Emmett Quanah Parker of the Comanche tribe, and mixed-race FBI agent Anna Turnipseed.

A body that has been bizarrely mutilated is found in the Havasupai Nation, this is the incident that brings together our protagonists.

Mitchell gets the law enforcement turf wars down pat but even more interesting is the almost otherworldly interactions between different tribes. He gets the “All Indians ain’t the same” correct and walks our characters through the heady atmosphere of tribal politics and even deeper tribal belongings that manifest behavior hard to understand to an outside homogenized culture.

While the mystery works, I’ll admit that it was the insight and depth of this unusual setting that truly held my interest.

A worthy read for fans of Hillerman.

Friday, May 8, 2020

“The Last Ride” by Don Winslow


His daddy used to say that most people will do what’s right when it don’t cost much, but very few will do what’s right when it costs a lot.

Noted crime author, Don Winslow, released a volume of six novellas titled Broken. Five of these hew to his usual terse and quick-reading style and a few of them go so far as to bring back characters from past novels for another go around.

I have enjoyed Mr. Winslow much in the past, but I would be a liar if I didn’t say that this felt a bit by the numbers. It is well done mathematics but, all the same, nothing exactly new.

That is, until the last novella: “The Last Ride.”

Here Winslow takes a shot at a neo-Western in the tale of a Border Patrol agent wrestling with questions of right and wrong and the border between duty and honor.

Does it have a political bent that may rile some?

It does at that, as Mr. Winslow is not shy about his opinions. One must offer him the grace that his opinions come from a very informed place.

So how does he do in the western genre? 

Pretty damn well. This is easily the high-water mark of this volume for this reader.
It limns a complex character in almost iconic strokes and renders personal integrity in elegiac terms. 

Although it goes its own way it calls to mind Edward Abbey’s splendid The Brave Cowboy.

I’ll not rate the entire volume but this story is an easy A.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Sierra Showdown by John Reese


Bobby, men is the cheapest thing in the world! I can buy all the men I need. It’s like buying nails—by the pound or by the keg, whichever suits you. But a man who’ll stick with you and tell you the truth and think for himself, that’s something money can’t buy.”

My first read of Mr. Reese. This is a fast-paced title put out by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1971. It is a familiar tale of beleaguered ranch versus those who wish to run owners off of the land.

On one hand it is no great shakes in originality or even events for that matter, but…I spent a pleasant afternoon with it and enjoyed the author’s interior observations.
Such as the following referring to the atmosphere around the ranch once some know trouble is on the way.

The spring wagon got there about noon. By then only six men remained. The others had drifted away by ones and twos, remembering little chores Ed wanted them to do. They would be long gone from Wild Rose Valley before this night fell, but Bobby said nothing to them. Nothing could hold a certain kind of man when the chips were all shoved in this way.

Or this…

Worse than anything else was their hunger. With a full belly a man was just about equal to anything. When it was empty, so was his heart.

Again, no great shakes, but hearty fare nevertheless.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Welcome to Hard Times by E.L. Doctorow


There is no work harder than cutting a grave. Though the rain had softened the ground, it was a few hot hours of taking turns at the pick and shovel before we had the five holes dug. The bodies we had gathered were lying under blankets. When it came time to put them down and rebury Fee I didn’t want the boy there, I shooed him away. We stood waiting while he walked back, turning every few yards to look at us. He finally squatted down at the edge of the flats, not going as far as the town, I suppose, because the buzzards were all down in the street now eating from the dead roan.


That picture of bleakness gives nothing away in this masterful first novel from Mr. Doctorow. The novel starts bleak on page one and only gives hints of sunshine here and there throughout.


In essence it is the story of the death of a town, the titled “Hard Times,” its painful re-birth and aftermath of that re-birth.


It is a spare novel, a mere 200 pages, written in an easy manner that puts many a “literary Western” to shame, but make no mistake, this easy manner is no formula work—this is a piece of art.


I leave us with another extract.


Now the saying is common that Sam Colt made men equal. But if it is true then our town wouldn’t have burned up in the rain; instead that Bad Man would have been buried with due honors and a proper notice sent to the Territory Office. He would have had a hole in his chest, or his back, and the one who shot him would have Avery standing him a drink and maybe redheaded Flo and Molly smiling his way. Colt gave every man a gun, but you have to squeeze the trigger for yourself.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Night Before Chancellorsville by F. Scott Fitzgerald


And in the papers the next day they never said anything about how our train got attacked or about us girls at all! Can you beat it?”


This brief tale from the legendary author may strike some as anticlimactic in that it deals only tangentially with the events of Chancellorsville. Instead the author takes a tack that reminds me of a routine from the acerbic but brilliant comedian, Anthony Jeselnik, loosely titled “Don’t forget about me.”


The crux of “Don’t forget about  me” is the outpouring of “hot takes” from many post any tragic event, be that a celebrity death or a disaster that left the “hot taker” untouched but they somehow still have some fodder that returns the focus to them ala, “I can’t believe David Bowie is dead, I’m so sad he was so influential to me" or, "I was in the region where that tornado touched down just last month!"


These “Don’t forget about me-ers” always relate to themselves and seldom remember to add “Oh, and my best to the families.”


Mr. Fitzgerald has provided us with his version of that solipsistic phenomenon. Some may feel cheated that the battle is not the true subject, but a closer reading reveals an all too human, and all too unflattering observation about prevailing egoism.


An intriguing tale with a bit of a wry sting.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A Novel by Quentin Tarantino

  It was sometime around fifteen years later that the reputation of a deadly half white/half Mexican gunfighter named Johnny Madrid reached ...