Friday, December 24, 2010

Richard S. Wheeler; Noirboiled Notes


Ed here: I was going to quote parts of Richard Wheeler's piece from his Curmugdeon's Diary ( but it's done so well I'm reprinting the entire post. Thanks, Richard.


Into the Sunset by Richard S. Wheeler

Ron Charles, the Washington Post's gifted fiction reviewer, began a review of a literary story set in the West published by Little, Brown, with this:

By Ron Charles
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
When people talk about genre fiction, their list peters out somewhere after romance and sci-fi - long before they get down to westerns, those once-mighty bestsellers that now seem as quaint as leather fringe. (Quick: Who won this year's Spur Award?) You don't have to be all that old to remember an era when the sun rose every day on novels about cowboys and horses, but two decades after Louis L'Amour took his boots off, Bantam is publishing his books in "Legacy Editions," a sclerotic label if there ever was one. Cormac McCarthy has left horses for the apocalypse. And reviewing a Larry McMurtry novel last year, our reviewer said, "The prose seems summary in nature, imparting a 'let's get this over with' quality."

Them would be fightin' words if anybody still cared.

Richard: The novel he reviews is contemporary, ranch-oriented, and bears no resemblance to traditional western fiction. It should not be called a western at all. It is simply a rural story set in modern Arizona, with a woman author and heroine, which is what attracted Charles's interest.

He is certainly expressing a reality that can't be rationalized away. Only Pinnacle and Berkley have significant western lines, and these depend heavily on erotic fiction (Berkley) or gunman stories with high body counts (Pinnacle). The ranch western is pretty hard to find these days, as is the trail drive novel, as well as the mining camp story and the Indian Wars story. The subgenre fur trade story is about gone too. Mustangers, wagon train masters, gold-seekers, homesteaders, Pony Express, nesters, vigilantes, rustlers, scouts, buffalo hunters, pretty much gone.

The genre western isn't dead, and won't die soon, but don't expect any literary Viagra to change things.

---------------------------Noirboiled Notes

Here's a site that all stripe of noir fans should enjoy. David Rachels reviews the noirish world with brief punchy overviews that reveal an eclectic and highly opinionated mind. So far I only agree with about half of his judgements but he writes so well I have to credit his observations. A literate, lively site that will introduce new noir fans to the full spectrum of the the genre--and serve as a refresher course for long time fans like myself.

1 comment:

D.M. McGowan said...

I'm astounded that the western is showing no more than a resurgance. From all the signs it should be outselling anything. The few western movies that have been released have done well even though most have been more violent and graphic than those of yor. (Unforgiven, Open Range)
In promoting my own work I have visited several used book stores (and my wife had one for 10 years) and they can't keep westerns in stock. The classics (L'Amour, Kelton, Leonard, Overholster) come in by the hundred weight and go out the same way. Even the gunfighter and romance westerns don't hang around long.
So why are more producers not taking advantage of this? If you spend 5 million and bring in 8 mill. isn't that better than spending 50 million and bringing in 60?