Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Best Cowboy Book I've Ever Read
Last night I finished Warlock by Oakley Hall. It's a western from 1958 that nearly won the Pulitzer back then and is lauded by authors such as Michael Chabon and Thomas Pynchon now. Basically, if the new edition of your 50+ year old cowboy book has got a great big blurb by Pynchon on the back there's nothing I can do, I will be reading your book.
Warlock was a little hard for me to get into at first for a silly and simple reason: all the cowboy names. I had such a hard time telling Clay apart from Curley and Cade, distinguishing between two Gannon brothers and so many judges and generals, marshals and deputies. But as the book moved along it got easier (partly due to the reduction in the size of cast thanks to shoot outs and murderings) to remember who was who and the last 100 pages were a regular "I can't put this book down" situation. The table of contents had clued me in on some ominous chapter titles and I was dying to see how they'd play out.
Although I don't think I've read any cowboy novels besides Warlock, I'll still dare to say this must be one of the best there is, just based on what I think other westerns are like. You could certainly read it as a straightforward cowboy adventure (a year after its publication it was made into a straightforward Henry Fonda cowboy film) but its also ready to be appreciated as a real western tragedy of more complex character arcs and trying moral decisions. If there's anyone out there that's read this book can we please talk about the journey of rustler turned deputy Johnny Gannon? Please?
In conclusion: I say Warlock is a fine, fine book. An excellent addition to any bookshelf in want of more Americana or a brain in need of tumbleweeds and shot outs and the pondering of the meaning of it all.