Literary Westerns take on Wild Frontiers
Most of us think of Westerns as stories of wild frontiers, dangerous outlaws and brave sheriffs, good cowboys and bad indians. Westerns, by both Canadian and American contemporary authors are quite, quite different. Since Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian they are also much more violent. Modern Literary Westerns are generally well researched historical fiction, often based on real people, set in the wild west with all it's natural beauty but with no space for romantics.
Aside from the recent Canadian bestseller The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt which was nominated for countless awards and won the Governor General's Award, contemporary authors who write Literary Westerns are few in number. Below is a list by Canadian authors that you might like to explore.
- Englishman's Boy by Guy Vanderhaeghe [also a film]
- Outlander by Gil Adamson
- Truth & Bright Water by Thomas King
To be truthful, the real reason I write this post is that I've just finished a Literary Western (or is it Historical Fiction?) called the Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles. The North York Central Library Book Club will discuss this book for Black History Month at our meeting on Wednesday February 29th. The Color of Lightning is also available as a Book Club Set.
Paulette Jiles is American but now lives in Canada so we can count her as one of our own. "The Color of Lightning" is based on a true story of the life of freed slave, Britt Johnson, who moved with his family to Texas after the Civil War. Britt's wife and children are captured and enslaved by Kiowa/Comanche Indians. He sets out to bring them back and in the process finds a means of getting very rich. Into the mix comes a Quaker Indian Agent who despite his best intentions is almost as destructive to the native population as the settlers and the small pox.
Comtemporary authors of the Literary Western take us to wild frontiers and in the process often tell us hard truths about our past in which we were often violent, intolerant and not a little bit ignorant. I'm sure we'll have a great discussion at our book club meeting.