Warlock

warlockWarlock
by Oakley Hall
1959 / 471 pages
Rating:  10

This may be the best book I read all year – it certainly is the best  to date, so…

Excellent,  excellent book – wow,  omg,  yes!    It’s like reading a good old fashioned western movie with some mind-boggling political/social/morality issues added including a miner’s strike and raising the questions of whose law is it?   Hall also asks about the nature of the good guys as well as the bad guys.  What makes a hero and who is an enemy?   It’s about loyalty,  humanity, power,  pride and a whole lot of gun-slinging.

This is fast paced and intense – it really wants to be a page-turner,  but because I had to pay attention it’s not a quick read – just seriously compelling.

Nice writing – impeccably well organized and structured with many perfect characterizations including a couple of single women who are “typed” as either Madonna or whore  – the sweet and beautiful nurse or the dressed in black with hook-nose w/bitch.

Oakley Hall wrote the story of a rough and tumble mining town in the seriously wild west where the citizenry has just hired a gunslinger for marshall to establish some “Law and Order – or is it Peace and Quiet?”   This is very loosely, Wyatt Earp in  Tombstone Arizona and the gunfight at the OK corral in the early 1880s.

The names have been changed,  events rearranged,  and most everyone is deranged. (Even Ned Buntline of the Colt Buntline Special gets an re-named plug.)   Politics is mean and ugly and powered by  the lust for power,  money,   hate,  mob mentality and hero worship –  and that’s  even before we get to any “law” being made or broken.     It’s  like Blood Meridian only 40 years and a Civil War later,  or Against the Day a decade or two later.

It’s a time when  “Some of us love Freedom not so much as Safety,  but are given pause by Safety’s cost.”  (pg 62) – almost sounds like today –  because – it is.

This is Pynchon’s review – found in lots of on-line places including:
http://www.themodernword.com/pynchon/pynchon_essays_gift.htm

The Gift
Holiday, vol. 38, #6; December 1965, pp. 164-5
A Review of Oakley Hall’s Warlock

Tombstone, Arizona, during the 1880’s is, in ways, our national Camelot: a never-never land where American virtues are embodied in the Earps, and the opposite evils in the Clanton gang; where the confrontation at the OK corral takes on some of the dry purity of the Arthurian joust. Oakley Hall, in his very fine novel Warlock (Viking) has restored to the myth of Tombstone its full, mortal, blooded humanity. Wyatt Earp is transmogrified into a gunfighter named Blaisdell who, partly because of his blown-up image in the Wild West magazines of the day, believes he is a hero. He is summoned to the embattled town of Warlock by a committee of nervous citizens expressly to be a hero, but finds that he cannot, at last, live up to his image; that there is a flaw not only in him, but also, we feel, in the entire set of assumptions that have allowed the image to exist. It is Blaisdell’s private abyss, and not too different from the town’s public one. Before the agonized epic of Warlock is over with — the rebellion of the proto-Wobblies working in the mines, the struggling for political control of the area, the gunfighting, mob violence, the personal crises of those in power — the collective awareness that is Warlock must face its own inescapable Horror: that what is called society, with its law and order, is as frail, as precarious, as flesh and can be snuffed out and assimilated back into the desert as easily as a corpse can. It is the deep sensitivity to abysses that makes Warlock one of our best American novels. For we are a nation that can, many of us, toss with all aplomb our candy wrapper into the Grand Canyon itself, snap a color shot and drive away; and we need voices like Oakley Hall’s to remind us how far that piece of paper, still fluttering brightly behind us, has to fall.

— By Thomas Pynchon

The genre of westerns has changed significantly over the decades (centuries now).  From Nattie Bumpo in the Leatherstocking Tales (and upstate New York was the “wild west” back then)  to Doc by Mary Doria Russell or The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt – 2012.

Warlock is distinctly different from the westerns written by Zane Grey and his ilk and it’s different from the later Lonesome Dove or Blood Meridian  Certainly different from McMurtry’s Berrybender Chronicles (great humor).    I think Warlock is  just really wonderfully original.  See  History of Western Fiction for more on this intriguing genre.

Also see:

New York Review of Books

And a page about Tombstone “in the days”:

http://lawfitzg.blogspot.com/2011/03/warlock-1958-oakley-hall.html

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