Yee-hah! I adore a good Western! Does anyone read them anymore? Several classic westerns are among my favorite-books-of-all-time, including Shane, The Ox-Bow Incident, Lonesome Dove, and Little Big Man. And last year, Patrick deWitt’s fabulous The Sisters Brothers was a most superb tale of “cowboy noir” (plus had one of the best book covers I’ve ever seen!).
And just this month, there are two just-published, fabulously-reviewed new westerns that are going on my list as well:
Magic Words: The tale of a Jewish boy-interpreter, the world's most estimable magician, a murderous harlot, and America's greatest Indian chief by Gerald Kolpan
Arriving in America in the wake of the Civil War, young immigrant Julius Meyer can speak anyone’s language. In the wilds of 1867 Omaha, he befriends the mysterious Prophet John, who saves his life when the two are captured by Indians. Living as a slave, Julius meets Chief Standing Bear and his daughter, Prairie Flower, with whom he falls in love. Using his astounding facility with languages, Julius becomes the tribe’s interpreter and a champion of its rights.
His life seems safe and settled until the arrival of his older cousin, Alexander—who, as the Great Herrmann, will soon become the most famous magician in the world. Young magician Alexander Herrmann can deceive anyone’s eyes. Nor does Julius suspect the danger posed by Alex’s treacherous brother, Compars; or the ultimate consequences of the magician’s affair with Lady-Jane Little Feather, a glamorous— and murderous—prostitute destined to become the most scandalous woman on two continents.
Based on historical events (Julius and Alexander really existed), Magic Words is filled with colorful characters, rollicking humor and the danger of the frontier. It is also a gripping adventure about the nature of prejudice, the horror of genocide, and two amazing men: one fighting for love and freedom, the other living for mystery and magic. This is a bewitching work of compassionate historical fiction.
Little Century by Anna Keesey
Eighteen-year-old orphan Esther Chambers heads west in search of her only living relative. In the lawless town of Century, Oregon, her distant cousin, a laconic cattle rancher named Ferris Pickett leads her to a tiny cabin by a small lake and there she begins her new life as a homesteader. If she can hold out for five years, the land will join Pick’s already impressive spread.
But Esther discovers that the town is in the midst of a range war—it’s cattle against sheep, with water at a premium. In this charged climate, small incidents of violence escalate, and the bloodshed gets noticed by the railroad planners. Century will die without a railroad, a fate Pick and his men will go to any lengths to prevent. Meanwhile Esther finds her sympathies divided between her cousin and a sheepherder named Ben Cruff, a sworn enemy of the cattle ranchers. As her passion for Ben and her land grows, she begins to see she can’t be loyal to both. Little Century is a novel in the tradition My Antonia: a briskly romantic, nontraditional western. It's Willa Cather with a sense of humor, offering a variety of characters with intriguing stories in the richly depicted setting—from desert to dry goods store.
And here the description of my last year’s favorite, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt:
This darkly comic novel follows the picaresque misadventures of two hired guns, the fabled Sisters brothers (Eli and Charlie), set against the backdrop of the great California Gold Rush. They are traveling to San Francisco to kill a prospector. It is 1851, and some 200 pages pass in roguish adventures of the pair before they arrive at their destination. The heart of the book is the relationship between Eli and Charlie, their sibling rivalry and private judgments. And except for the slaughter and thievery, they seem like good guys–--dogged in their pursuits, tough on a bottle. Their story is weirdly funny, startlingly violent and steeped in sadness. One reviewer said, “in spite of its evocative poetic cadence, lifting the novel into the realm of serious literary fiction – this is a nearly pitch-perfect read, one that you will get swept away by, flipping the pages relentlessly towards its satisfying conclusion.”