I was talking with an intelligent, well read coworker recently about this blog when she told me that she doesn’t like westerns. Over the course of the conversation, she listed a few exceptions, namely any movie with Clint Eastwood, any book by Larry McMurtry, adaptations of Shane, and a handful of others. I hear this a lot. At a picnic years ago I was talking with a woman writing her PhD dissertation on homosexuality in 1800’s Colorado and the backlash of anti-sodomy laws that followed. To show her that I was interested in her topic, and by extension the history and culture of the 19th century frontier, I told her that I like westerns. There was a quick sneer of derision, then we spent the next half hour talking about Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. By next summer I expect that True Grit will take the place of Unforgiven in these conversations.
I also have these conversations about science fiction (“I hate that crap, except for Avatar, Terminator, and Empire Strikes Back”) and fantasy (“All that pansy elf stuff sucks, but did you see Lord of the Rings? That rocked!”). All this leads me to believe that people don’t really dislike westerns, or fantasy, or sci fi. What they really dislike is bad writing. A lot of what people think of as westerns are the paperback genre westerns, which I hate to admit are often not that well written. There are some great ones (Peter Brandvold’s Lou Prophet: Bounty Hunter series comes to mind), but there is a certain amount of mass produced, low expectation novels that are regularly turned out. Surely there are gems out there, but you need to kiss a lot of frogs to find them.
Somewhere between the high literature of Blood Meridian and Lonesome Dove and the mass produced paperbacks are the westerns that people want to read. Let me humbly suggest a starter list of engaging and well written westerns:
The Devil’s Lair, Peter Brandvold
Long Ride Home, W. Michael Gear
Appaloosa, Robert B. Parker
Deadville, Robert F. Jones
Bloody Season, Loren D. Estleman
Once you take a stab at a few of these, we can talk James Carlos Blake before you take of Cormac McCarthy.
Via con dios!