Genre: Western

Everyone should read the Western benchmark : Jack Schaefer’s Shane.

Read second Western title of your choice, and please post your RA review of the second title on the blog using the form provided above.

Appeal to be read for March meeting: Focus on all the appeal factors while reading, but really think about landscape and character and how they work together in Westerns.

Notes from Genre Study Meeting March 22, 2011 at Danvers

Leane expressed our thanks to Shelley for all her work on the wiki. We now have a great resource containing an amazing amount of knowledge. Thank you, too, to Michelle for creating our new user- friendly blog at Leane stressed that our 2nd title entries need not be lengthy; what’s important is why we think someone would like to read the title. Jan suggested using Joyce Saricks’ book form for notes as we are reading books for review.

Notes on Jack Schaefer’s Shane (benchmark):

  • An easy read; appropriate for YA collection
  • The young boy’s perspective/voice renders story accessible
  • Male version of romance; formulaic; appeals on a subconscious level to men in the ways romance appeals to women; fulfills fantasies
  • Core values shared with romance: redemption, justice, loyalty, good triumphs over evil
  • Similar to adventure: moral code
  • As a genre, the Western is a little safer than mysteries, less variation, more consistent
  • Characters: strong, silent, heroic; it is clear what they need to do; importance of doing the right thing without whining, “making the best of the hand your dealt,” only the bad guys and women whine.
  • Recommended by Leane: West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns, by Jane Tompkins – role of women in traditional Westerns
  • Shelley: Joe’s wife is interested in and appreciative of what her husband does. She’s also very strong herself. It is a marriage of equals in which each respects the other. Appeal: well-written, appealing characters (Joe and Marian) – necessarily strong as a result of the time period, the setting, a difficult life. Marian is one of the better-defined women in Westerns, especially considering the author is a man; goes beyond the archetypal females usually portrayed in Westerns (the woman who needs protecting, the fallen woman, or the wise old crone)
  • Recommended by Leane: Read the High Country: Guide to Western Books and Films, John Mort. We are familiar with Westerns even if we haven’t read them because of the movies; same conventions
  • Setting: Some feel it is a character in Shane – battle with the stump; achieving peace through riding. Others felt it is less a character than the setting in other Westerns.
  • At least 4 love stories in Shane: Joe and Marian, Marian and Shane, Shane and Joe, Bob and Shane. Joe trusts both Shane and Marian, Shane to not be a threat but to take care of Marian if something happens to Joe
  • Characters and plot together: very important in Westerns, what the main hero decides to do or not is the important element in Westerns. Nancy: not being able to overcome past, bound to it; in Romance you can get beyond it, or at least we get all the details of the past, no mystery. In Shane, why does he have to leave? He’s killed someone – he’ll be a target, and make a target of the Starretts by being with them; always looking over his shoulder. Shane wants a better life for Bob than Shane himself had; very protective. Also saves Joe from killing someone. Leane: reader allows certain gaps in the story, room for sentiment to creep in. Voice of Bob renders the story sympathetic to wider range of readers. Also, lots of story told behind crates and corners, allows Bob and us to know, we understand without Bob having to; great device
  • Chris: another example of Shane’s achieving redemption in that Chris is able to do what Shane couldn’t do, able to stick around to atone for his mistakes
  • Shelley: reminiscent of The Quiet Man, John Wayne holding back, trying not to fight. Diane: this is characteristic of Westerns, not wanting to do what needs to be done, heroes aren’t one-dimensional; not a happy ending, necessarily, but closure and justice
  • Writing style: spare, few words, heavy with meaning, good example of the way Western males talk to each other
  • Michelle: appreciates Schaefer’s turns of phrase, striking sentences and phrases that she would re-read; also, Schaefer knew exactly when older Bob needed to come through; very effective
  • Leane: speaks to the writer’s craft; well worth reading even if you’ve seen the movie
  • Jan: everyone has a role, no extra characters; Sarah: as in real life at the time, everybody had an important job to do
  • Tricia: pacing – shocked at easy pace, slow and steady; where’s the action? The gunfight was surprising; makes it accessible even for people who don’t like the adrenaline rush
  • Jan: appreciates the idea that Shane has become thoughtful on his own, he understands things
  • Read aloud: Showdown at Lonesome Pellet, by Paul Rátz de Tagyos. Picture book. Delightful reading by Diane. Contains all the elements of the Western.

Comments on 2nd titles:

  • Shelley            Gun This Man Down, Lewis B. Patten

Also: The White Cheyenne

Main character has a white rancher father, and a Cheyenne Indian mother; he marries an Indian woman; someone kills his family, after which he is driven by revenge. Many of the elements we saw in Shane; mostly dialog

Appeal: pace (fast), good dialog; easy read

  • Tatjana           The Pumpkin Rollers, Elmer Kelton

Not the stereotypical Western. A young man with nothing going on at home leaves to become a cattle driver (title refers to a derogatory name for farmers). He’s a greenhorn, easily cheated, makes mistakes; a coming of age story. He’s new to this life and that is the appeal of his character; he’s not the knight in shining armour; but he has a strong moral compass and is able to take the measure of a man for himself – not overly influenced by others; he’s honest.

Appeal: setting, character (strong female character)

Leane: most popular Western writer right now

  • Jan      Four Great Novels of the West, Marc Jaffe, ed.

Shane / by Jack Schaefer — Bugles in the Afternoon / by Ernest Haycox — The Searchers / by Alan LeMay — Warhorse / by John Cunningham.

Bugles in the Afternoon: Main character is a former soldier who re-enlists and is eventually to fight in Custer’s 7th at the Battle of Little Bighorn. He resolves conflicts in his past that we gradually learn about in the story. He is the strong, silent type, who lives in self-imposed isolation. Language is poetic, not as spare as in Shane; lots of detail; Suspenseful story throughout because we know about Custer and what happens – story takes place during the 1 year preceding the battle. Relationships among people are important, as is the terrain of the battle and the weather.

Appeal: language, story, setting, character

Leane: will appeal to historical fiction lovers; Western appeal of man against the past and the elements; nobility of self-sacrifice; appeal: military history.

  • Harriet            Longarm and the Apache War Tabor Evans

Whites prospecting for gold encroach on Navajos’ reservation land; the town is corrupt. Longarm comes in to deal with the problem, to defend the Navajos against evil and greed and brutality. Longarm is a champion, a 3-dimensional character. Good triumphs over evil

Appeal: character

  • Diane              The Man From Yesterday Wayne D. Overholser

Main character, Neal, killed two people during a bank robbery 8 years ago. Now there is a shady developer in town, Neal is refusing to lend his friends money (he’s a banker), and everyone is angry with him. He’s trying to save them. He has two allies: the doctor and the sheriff. Neal is strong an principled, a reluctant hero. Characters in general are not flat, but neither are they well-developed. Lots of action. Love of and vastness of land comes through very clearly. Female character is slightly more developed than in the typical Western. Pacing is steady. A hopeful, happy ending.

Appeal: action, setting, main character, steady pacing

Leane: give to Louis L’Amour fans; traditional Western

  • Nancy remarked upon the similarity between Westerns and Christian Western Romances. Setting as character is prevalent among these. Characterization is good; formulaic but comfortable. Like Lori Wick. See Nanci’s Readalike for this author in NoveList.


  • Leane  The Hearts of Horses Molly Gloss

A delightful surprise. Wonderfully written, literary quality. Set in WW I Oregon. Main character is 20-year-old Martha, who is riding the circuit, determined to get paid to break horses. She is given the opportunity with one farmer and gets a start. The book isn’t about much, but it’s about everything. Setting is stunning. Lots of details, in a subtle way. Martha interacts with other great characters. She’s a hard worker and the hero of the story. Lots of history. Give it to a male who doesn’t mind a strong female character, who likes Westerns; a subtle love story, no sex but relationships. Reminded Leane of Plainsong, and Peace Like a River.

Appeal: Setting, Character, Writing; crossover appeal: historical, and horse crazy teens (YA).

  • Tricia  Nails Peter Bowen

Contemporary Western Mystery. Main character is amateur detective DuPré, a leader in his Montana community. When the body of a dead girl shows up, DuPré is on the case. He’s convinced the perpetrators are the “other” in the community: Christian fundamentalists who are new to the area. 14th in a series. Setting is important. Diverse characters and how they are in the community are appealing; all have their roles to play; dialog – many different dialects – are a big part of the characters; lots of humor, manners of speaking. Pacing: nothing happens quickly, even though there is a mystery; slower than a typical mystery. Fundamentalist Christians might find it offensive.

Appeal: dialog, character, setting

  • Michelle          Slocum and the Two Gold Bullets Jake Logan
  • Clichéd Western; not good characters; cheesy

Hondo by Louis L’Amour

Main character is a former gunslinger turned military scout and courier, Hondo. He survives an Apache attack and ends up at a homestead that lacks a man’s presence. He helps out but must get mail to the forts so he leaves. Gets drawn into scuffles with Apache bands; goes back to the woman, who is “all woman.” Like Shane, Hondo is taken with the young boy and the idea of teaching  him, being a father. Author portrays Native Americans in a positive light, living by a moral code. Violence and a torture scene. Very repetitive writing.

Appeal: character, setting

(Diana Palmer, Western Romance)

  • Sarah              Rachel and the Hired Gun Elaine Levine

Rachel has run away from her cruel aunt and uncle in Virginia while, unbeknownst to her, Sager has been hired by her father to see her safely from Virginia to his ranch in the Dakota Territory. Sager, the gorgeous, loner, bad-boy hired gun, has plans of his own that involve using Rachel in a plan for revenge against his own father. Instead, he is utterly captivated by the courageous yet vulnerable Rachel and must fight his desire for her almost from the moment he saves her life in their first encounter.

Appeal: Character, Setting, Storyline (including a bit of a mystery and lots of adventure), Romance, Intermittently fast-paced when depicting the dangers characters faced and slower-paced when working in the setting.

Second Titles

Tricia Arrington

Nails – Peter Bowen
Appeal Factors: Character/ Setting/ Dialogue/Dialect

The thirteenth Gabriel Du Pre mystery takes place in the French/Cree Metis community of Toussaint, Montana. Du Pre is a retired cattle brand inspector and amateur detective who plays the fiddle at the local bar on weekends. While a quick read, it’s hard to call Nails fast-paced. Nothing except the speed at which Du Pre drives is fast-paced in Toussaint. Du Pre spends much of his time keeping an eye on the local priest  who is perhaps the clumsiest person on earth. When a dead girls body is found on the side of the road, Du Pre is on the case and his prime suspects are a group of Christian fundamentalists that have recently arrived from Texas.

Peter Bowen does a great job with the characters of Toussaint. It’s a tight-knit but fairly diverse community. There are the Metis who go to mass and visit the local Shaman on the same day, cowboys, a Belgian priest, a wealthy contractor from Chicago and his Blackfoot Indian, former FBI agent girlfriend to name a few. Bowen’s dialogue really makes or breaks the book for the reader. If a reader doesn’t like to read books in dialect, they will not enjoy this mystery. But those who have an ear for dialect or who don’t mind giving it a shot, are in for a real treat, because the dialect is so much a part of what make these characters so likable. Du Pre may complain, but he is loyal, open-minded and compassionate. RA librarians want to be aware of one caveat, fundamentalist Christians and believers of “intelligent design” will most likely be offended by the book.

Diane Giarrusso

The Man From Yesterday – Wayne D. Overholser
Appeal Factors: Suspense, principled protagonist, gunfights, love of the land, resolved ending w/hope for the future

Neal Clark killed 2 members and wounded the 3rd of a family gang robbing Cascade City’s bank. Eight years later he’s receiving notes threatening revenge against him for the shooting , a shady developer is in town, and Neal, now the president of the bank, refuses to loan money to his friends and neighbors -concerned that they’ll lose the money. The only men who haven’t turned on him for refusing to issue loans are the sheriff and the doctor. As the plot moves forward, the threats to his life and his family’s lives become more menacing ending with a showdown with a madman.

Lots of suspense built over short chapters. Good characterization of Neal and the community. Testosterone filled conversations, and a strong man whose weakness is his family. Steady pacing and a quick read.

Recommended for those who enjoy mounting suspense. A good representative of the genre.

Shelley Quezada

Gun This Man Down and The White Cheyenne (A Western Duo) – Lewis Patten
Appeal Factors: fast paced action, character driven

This book contained two titles, “Gun This Man Down” and “The White Cheyenne. ” I read the second title, which deals with themes of justice, the importance of right over wrong and being true to oneself. “The White Cheyenne” refers to the main character Julien Tremeau, known as Black Dog. He is the son of mountain man Charles Tremeau and his Cheyenne wife. He had been sent away to live in the East but returned to the West where he lives among the Cheyenne, with an Indian wife and children. When soldiers surround their village and open fire, killing his wife and making off with his children, Black Dog vows revenge—on all white men. As he stalks the abductors, killing anyone who stands in his way. He is counseled by his father, who urges his son to temper his vengeance with mercy. This is a story about revenge and reveals the conflict of a bicultural man who was challenged to live in two worlds.

Patten was a highly prolific writer of Westerns. His stories are fast paced and quick to read.

Leane Ellis

The Hearts of Horses by Molly Glass
Appeal Factors: CH/FRAME: Place/TONE: Writing style—elegant and straight-forward

In the winter of 1917, with many of his regular hands off fighting in World War I, Oregon rancher George Bliss hires young Martha Lessen to help gentle wild horses, and as she demonstrates her unique talent for dealing with damaged horses. Barely 19 years old, Martha has three times the natural horse sense as more seasoned wranglers. With a talent for breaking horses to saddle in a uniquely gentle way, she soon proves herself in a man’s world, becoming an indispensable part of the fabric of the community as she rides a circle to break over ten horses in different ranches & farms. Martha’s adventures are chronicled in a delightfully down-home, matter-of-fact voice. Based on historical accounts of cowgirls in the American West, this has obvious appeal for horse lovers, it has a homespun quality, and varies in action between a “gentle canter and energetic gallop” and offers an acutely observed, often lyrical portrayal, and title notwithstanding, has as much to say about people as about horses.

This was a delightful surprise—one of those authors I have meant to read for a long time and when she was mentioned in Sarick’s Genre book in the Western chapter—this gave me a great excuse. The book is delightful. Nothing much happens, yet everything does. The boys are off to war and a woman’s role is changing. Martha is running from her old life and just wants to break horses and survive. While riding her circle of breaking horses she introduces us to the neighborhood: two eccentric but well-regarded old-lady ranchers & their hired hand, a drunken man and his devoted wife & children, a chicken farmer dying from cancer, the rich rancher and his sadistic foreman, and the young German family among others. Thematic material runs from a woman’s role to the prejudice against all people & things German during WWI, economic issues, and the morality of war itself. Martha grows on the reader as she grows into herself and on those she works for and with. Strong female main character who is the substitute for the male white knight of the Westerns; Martha is shy and unsure of herself as she tries to earn her keep but she knows horses and steps up like the Western hero and does what is morally & ethically difficult no matter what the consequences; secondary characters are fully-fleshed out flawed men & women. It is a Coming-of-Age novel; a tale of Western resilience; a bit of a Romance and would appeal to horse lovers of all kinds. Place is a character—setting is mostly winter in Oregon and the details of how hard everyone works is done easily and completely. No graphic sex but a little bit of surprising sweet ST.

This book reminded me of both Kent Haruf’s Plainsong & Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River. The Haruf for writing quality & tone as well as landscape as character and the Enger the same in addition to the appealing younger protagonist.

APPEAL: CH/FRAME: Place/TONE: Writing style—elegant and straight-forward Male readers of Westerns will enjoy as well as they can handle a strong female lead. Good YA choice…little bad language and sex of any kind. This is a title for those who like a well-written and leisurely-paced novel from the literary genre, who enjoys subtle but complete character development and the landscape as character. And horse or animal lovers.

Sarah Woo

Rachel and the Hired Gun – Elaine Levine
Appeal Factors: Character, Setting, Storyline (Including a bit of a mystery and lots of adventure)

Elaine Levine’s Rachel and the Hired Gun is a Western Historical Romance that depicts the cowboys, Indians, gunslingers, cattle rustlers, and strong sense of time and place that we find in the traditional Western. It includes strong female characters and a focus on the people who came and stayed – as opposed to the loner like Shane who rides in, makes things right, and then leaves – that we expect in historical novels set in the West, as described in The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (2009). Finally, the story includes characters who overcome their initial aversion to and/or fear of each other, with the requisite happy ending that we expect in a romance.

Rachel has run away from her cruel aunt and uncle in Virginia while, unbeknownst to her, Sager has been hired by her father to see her safely from Virginia to his ranch in the Dakota Territory. Sager, the gorgeous, loner, bad-boy hired gun, has plans of his own that involve using Rachel in a plan for revenge against his own father. Instead, he is utterly captivated by the courageous yet vulnerable Rachel and must fight his desire for her almost from the moment he saves her life in their first encounter.

The landscape – how it affects and influences the characters – plays a role intermittently in the novel. The setting is important and satisfying in the first part of the story, as Rachel and Sager travel on the Oregon Trail towards the ranch. Rachel is portrayed as being quite connected to the land, especially for a white person, as Sager points out. The vastness, beauty, and danger of the wide open spaces of the prairie affect both Rachel and Sager quite deeply. They are alternately awed by, spurred to action by, and made reflective by their surroundings. The power and beauty of the landscape and its inhabitants act as a catalyst in bringing them together throughout the story.

Appeal: Character, Setting, Storyline (including a bit of a mystery and lots of adventure), Romance (more sex than I thought at first), Intermittently fast-paced (when depicting the dangers characters faced) and slower-paced when working in the setting.

Michelle Deschene-Warren

Hondo – Louis L’Amour
Appeal Factors: Character/Storyline/Setting

Gunfighter turned military scout and courier, Hondo Lane survives a skirmish with Apache warriors but finds himself in need of a horse. With his saddle and the company of a dog named Sam, he travels on foot across the desert until he runs across a small homestead on the border of Apache land and the woman and child who call it home.

That homestead is all Angie Lowe and her young son, Johnny, have ever known, and she’ll be damned if she lets anyone – Apache or American soldier – push her out. But with the aggression between the Apache and the miliatary reaching a fevered pitch, Angie recognizes the fact that she may need Hondo’s skills to survive. Hondo, having reached a similar conclusion, will do whatever it takes to make it back to the homestead and the woman whose courage captured him completely.

Appeal: Hondo Lane is a strong, hardened man who walks the anti-hero line with sure footsteps. Angie is a proud woman who courts danger every day she stays put. Both are formidable in their own right, and while the tension and emotion between them lies mostly banked, their story is no less compelling. Secondary characters, like Angie’s son, help realize the motivations and depth of the main characters. The sense that you never know in whose favor any given conflict is going to swing tightens the plot; it is not a given that the good guys are going to triumph, and in any case, who exactly is the good guy? L’Amour shows no bias towards either faction – Native American or American soldier – but paints a picture of courage, principles, and moral codes that govern the decisions of men striking out into dangerous country. Very much a character in its own right, the desert landscape challenges and teaches those trying to tame or woo it, and serves as a harsh but beautiful backdrop.