The western is dead. Or so you’ve been told. It’s been declared dead more times than Justin Bieber and that’s really saying something. While this declaration usually pertains more to films than fiction, it’s often applied to both. Westerns certainly aren’t enjoying the same success as they did in the 50s and 60s (or even the early 1900s during the dime western heyday), but to declare it dead is ridiculous – at best it ignores the genre, at worst it blatantly discredits it. I’m happy to say that western fiction* is very much alive, even thriving, if The Sisters Brothers, The Thicket, and Road to Reckoning are any indication.
Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner is the story of a quiet, bookish twelve year old boy named Thomas Walker. He lives in Manhattan. Thomas is homeschooled by his aunt and frightened of rambunctious boys out in the street. While he’s always enjoyed a comfortable enough existence, his world changes when his mother dies of the pocks. His father, panicking financially, approaches Samuel Colt’s firearms company and agrees to help sell the world’s first true revolver. In comparison, he previously sold spectaculars (or spectacles). Thomas and his father set out through Pennsylvania, by horse and wagon, to take orders for firearms, but not even the colt can save them. Not even twelve.
I, too this day, hold to only one truth: if a man chooses to carry a gun he will get shot.
Thomas loses his father to a violent vicious act. He encounters ex-ranger Henry Stands and the two begin an unlikely partnership.
When I first met Henry Stands I imagined he was a man of few friends. When I last knew of him I was sure he had even fewer. But, it could be said, just as true, that he had fewer enemies because of it. And as I get older I can see the wisdom of that.
While I have no doubt that the novel will garner comparison to True Grit, this story is more than just a straightforward revenge quest. What begins as a story of a father and son quickly becomes a story of murder, revenge, friendship, and the journey back to home. The novel is set against the history of Colt firearms and the way it and industry changed the west (essentially the improvement of the act of murder, no?). It has a distinctive, engaging narrative voice and a meandering plot that never fails to entertain. Thomas must learn that while everything once seemed black and white, there are shades of grey and degrees of good (and evil). While Road to Reckoning** is a typical western in the best sense, it has quiet moments of heart and reflection as well. Very highly recommended for fans of westerns and generally recommended for fans of good literary fiction. Overall, a very impressive debut, 4.5/5.
So do you think the western is dead? Even if you aren’t typically a fan of the genre, I’d suggest giving this one a chance. At the very least, you’ll learn a bit about the history of firearms.
While I couldn’t quite bring myself to recommend it with rabbit stew, a Hunter’s Stew (image via Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes) would be a good substitute. It uses vegetarian sausage. Admit it, those croutons are tempting.
*And then there’s film. Let’s all ignore the existence of The Lone Ranger and Cowboys and Aliens and focus on recent western films that have been successful: Brokeback Mountain, True Grit, Dances with Wolves, 3:10 to Yuma, Back to the Future III, Meek’s Cutoff, No Country for Old Men, and Django Unchained – just to name a few…,
**In the interest of full disclosure: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.