Wednesday, December 28, 2022

The Drop Edge of Yonder by by Rudolph Wurlitzer


Annie May and Zebulon smelled Broken Elbow before they saw it. What had been a trading post and a few shacks only a year ago was now a long, rutted street dominated by pandemonium and open sewage. Drunken miners shouted back and forth in a dozen languages, a naked Chinaman crawled past them into an alleyway pursued by a screaming whore, halfdead oxen pulled overloaded supply wagons through mud and melting snow, past signs advertising wares at outrageous prices: Boots $30, Flour $35, Blankets $30, Washing $20. Every square foot of ground that was not lived on was cluttered with mining equipment, dead dogs, pigs rooting in piles of stinking garbage, wagon beds, spare wheels, barrels, and stacks of lumber, as well as makeshift corrals where mules and horses stood knee-deep in muck. Farther away, on the banks of a swiftly moving river, hundreds of high-booted men—most of them Indians, Mexicans, and Chinese—squatted beside cradle-like gold washers and sluice boxes while others worked up a canyon in steep pits, hacking at the soil with picks and shovels.

Written with a gorgeous eye for detail, be that detail grit, grime, or a wildflower straining a head through the snow, but…

This novel falls into the Acid-Western genre where the rules of reality are a bit bent. It is not as “out there” as works by Coover or Brautigan but it does exist in this realm of metaphysical shenanigans.

I’ll admit this is not a genre that appeals to me but, I’d be a liar if I did not say that some grounded episodes within are as good as any in many a straight literary western.

Likely an A Western for fans of the acid variety.

The fault is mine for wanting the book to be something the obviously talented author did not intend.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Stagecoach by Ernest Haycox


World’s full of small people who ain’t bound anywhere. They’re tied to one spot, they eat and work and die; and that’s the end of it. It don’t happen often that the game changes and a whole chunk of the world opens up and there’s a fresh chance for the small, if they’ve got the nerve to take it. That’s why we’re here—to get land I’d never had in Iowa. Back there you’d have been a poor man’s son and nothing to start with. Now when I die you’ll have a thousand acres, and if you’re smart you’ll leave more than that to your sons. That’s why people will come, but some of them will be the same kind of fools here they were there, thinking free land means they’re free to sit still and do no work, and they’ll waste their days and die as poor as they started.” –Violent Interlude

Here we have nine stories, that were formerly packaged in a volume titled By Rope and Lead.

I have made no secret of my esteem for Mr. Haycox and found these stories to rank in the B to A+ level with only two C’s in the bunch. And we must keep in mind that these “C’s” are comparing a gifted author against himself, not the pack of many that don’t always measure up to his uniform rock-solid excellence.

Haycox, as per usual, limns landscape with an Old Master’s eye, he esteems “can do” like no one, and he exudes a inner moral fiber that is always bracing to spend time with.

His four page “A Question of Blood” deserves reading and re-reading to marvel at the punch in such a slim page count.


A Frontier Phrase Worth Resurrecting: “He Bubbles Pure"

  [Excerpted from our book The Frontier Stoic: Life Lessons from Those Who Lived a Life.] “ He bubbles pure .” ·         Said of a man w...