America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 12-14.

Doctorow, E. L.  Welcome to Hard Times.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960.

After his discharge from the army, E. L. Doctorow found a job as a script reader at Columbia Pictures.  After reading a great many scripts for Westerns, he became convinced that he could write a more credible and still entertaining Western.  He began with a short story, which interested him enough that he decided to develop it into a novel rather than a screenplay.  Not only was Welcome to Hard Times Doctorow’s first novel, establishing him as an important new novelist, but it was also the first of the revisionist Westerns that at first seemed an attack on the genre but ultimately revitalized it. (Often discussed with Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man, Doctorow’s novel predates Berger’s by four years.)

Welcome to Hard Times is set in a South Dakota town originally named Silver Sun.  But, in a single legendary rampage, an outlaw known as the Man from Bodie destroyed it—murdering, raping, and destroying property from street to street as the surviving townspeople looked on impotently, paralyzed by fear.  After the rampage is over, some leave, but the rest sift through the wreckage and start to rebuild the town.  They rename it Hard Times, reflecting not only their haunting memories of the rampage that changed the town forever but also their expectation that the Man from Bodie will inevitably return and lay the town to waste yet again.  The novel transforms the glorious conquest of the West into a grim test of endurance against successive catastrophes.

 

Estleman, Loren D.  Aces and Eights.  New York: Doubleday, 1981.

Although many authors have produced novels in several of the popular genres, Loren D. Estleman is one of the relative few to have produced truly noteworthy work in more than a single genre.  He has produced a series of award-winning historical novels chronicling the development of the city of Detroit, originally called the Motor City Trilogy but now expanded beyond three novels and called the Motor City Series.  He has been lauded for his contributions to the mystery-detective genre in his series featuring private detective Amos Walker.

In the Western genre, his achievements have been even more conspicuous.  For his stories and novels, he has won several Spur Awards, most recently for Aces and Eights, the first novel in a planned trilogy treating seminal figures in the mythos of the West.  Aces and Eights focuses on the murder of legendary gunman “Wild Bill” Hickock in a South Dakota saloon.  The second novel in the series, This Old Bill (1984), depicting the life of “Buffalo Bill” Cody, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The High Rocks (1979), the first novel in his Page Murdock series, was a finalist for an American Book Award.

 

Fisher, Vardis.  Mountain Man.  New York: Morrow, 1965.

In the late 1920s and the 1930s, Vardis Fisher established himself as a naturalistic novelist with Dark Bridwell, Toilers of the Hills, and the Vridar Hunter tetralogy.  In the 1940s, he became obsessed with his Testament of Man series, a twelve-novel series in which he attempted to capture the critical developments in human consciousness from the Neolithic caves to the industrialized cities of the current period.  Although this series, produced over twenty years, never received the appreciative critical response that he was convinced it deserved, Fisher persisted with it, supporting his labors on it by writing historical novels about the American West that proved much more popular and may, ironically, constitute his most lasting contribution to American literature.

The last of these historical novels was Mountain Man, subtitled A Novel of Male and Female in the Early American West and thereby reflecting the carry-over of some of Fisher’s preoccupations in the Testament of Man series.  Focusing on a mountain man named Sam Minnard, the novel is loosely based on the life of the legendary mountain man “Liver-Eatin’” Johnson.  While depicting the ways in which Minnard’s adventures become the stuff of folk tales and legends, the novel also provides a psychological study how the broader cultural mythos and Minnard’s own personal obsessions have shaped his consciousness and his behavior.  For the novel, Fisher received the Wrangler Award from National Cowboy Hall of Fame for best Western historical novel and the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America.

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Previous Posts in This Series:

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 1-2: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/10/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-1-2/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 3-5: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/16/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-3-5/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 6-8: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/20/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-6-8/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 6-8: https://academeblog.org/2014/10/04/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-9-11/

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Posts in the Previous Series:

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 1-3: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-1-3/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 4-5: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/31/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-4-5/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 6-7: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/01/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-6-7/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 8-10: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/04/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-8-10/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 11-13: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/06/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-11-13/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 14-16: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/11/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-14-16/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 17-19: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/18/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-17-19/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 20-22: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/25/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-20-22/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 23-25: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/07/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-23-25/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 26-29: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/11/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-26-29/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 30-32: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/23/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-30-32/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 33: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/29/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-33/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 34-36: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/10/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-34-36/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 37-39: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/15/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-37-39/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 40-42: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/21/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-40-42/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 43-45: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/23/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-43-45/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 46-48: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/26/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-46-48/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 49-50: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-49-50/

 

15 thoughts on “America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 12-14.

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