Okay, it is time to dip in and evaluate three more books from the Amazon.com list of Top 10 Selling Westerns as of 10/28/07 against my criteria for a western.
As a reminder, the key 8 points I look for are:
- Land as character
- High Action – gritty reality without being too overly graphic
- Characters of strong principle, who will go it alone if necessary to carry out their convictions. To quote the cliché, rugged individualism and a fighting spirit.
- A setting in the 19th century, though I do not confine it to the ‘cowboy era’ of the 1880’s to turn of the century.
- Geographic location west of the Mississippi
Plus these additional 3 factors:
1. Will I read it more than once?
2. Do I still think about the characters and their choices after I’m done with the book?
3. Was it so good that it instantly stilled my inner editor?
DISCLAIMER: Please note as I proceed with evaluating the books from this Amazon.com list, these are NOT meant to be book reviews. All I’m after here is to determine whether, by my definition, the book is truly a western genre book – do I agree with the way Amazon has lumped them in the western fiction genre category. That means it’s strictly my opinion. Whether I consider a book western genre or not has nothing to do with the quality of the author’s writing. But reviewing where novels are ‘lumped’ by category will help me when it comes time to market my own work. On we go. . .
Lonesome Cowboy/Texas Two-Step
Debbie Macomber (1998)
I do not consider this novel to belong in the western genre category. While I didn’t go look, I don’t believe this novel would actually be shelved with the westerns. Perhaps Amazon lumps it with the westerns because they have to have some way to categorize romance fiction – not sure. On my western definition list, it scored only 2 of 8 points. To be honest, I didn’t read the book – I skimmed it. I determined very quickly it was a romance novel that just happened to be set in a western state, and likewise determined it was just not the sort of book I would read.
Looking at my additional 3 criteria, it scored 1 of 3. It stilled my inner editor – the writing quality was perfectly fine, but since I knew the story wasn’t for me, my internal editor didn’t even climb out of bed.
While I don’t rate it as a western, I do consider it a “gentle read” so I’m sure readers who want gentle read romances will love this book.
I’m not sure if this is particular to this romance novel format or not, but it left unfinished business with one of the characters, and I felt cheated. But, as I said, that may be standard for the romance genre and I’m just not familiar with it.
A Wanted Man
Linda Lael Miller (2007)
Likewise, this was also a romance novel that Amazon lumped into the western category. It also scored only 2 of 8 on my definitions list. Like the previous novel, the story’s location was inconsequential to the plot – one of the key things I look for in a western novel. It could have taken place in Idaho or Florida just as easily as Arizona. There was very little gunplay and very little high action and while the lead was somewhat principled, he was not terribly so – not enough to make me sit up and take notice. In addition, the novel takes place in the early 1900’s so does not meet my 19th century time frame. The characters were moderately interesting. I think Gideon’s character would be good for a follow up if the author so chose.
With regard to my additional 3 points of evaluation it only scores 1 of 3. I quickly determined it was a traditional romance format and not my preferred cup of tea, so I ended up skimming vast amounts of the material. Hence, my inner editor did not come out to play.
Fine writing quality and those who enjoy the romance genre and a lusty romp would definitely enjoy her book.
Larry McMurtry (1985)
Scores 100% on my 8 points to make a western list.
It has everything a die-hard western fan could want – the dramatic river crossing, the perils of the cattle drive, the harsh weather, gunplay, horses, the land shaping the characters. So many great moments in the book – more then any other death that occurred, the death of Deets hit me most profoundly. There was also that great moment when the tough fighter Call woke to find his horse being led by Deets after 3 particularly harsh, sleepless days on the drive – I love stories of friendship!
But I also have a love/hate relationship with this book. Read it probably 3-4 years ago, well after it was first published. On the one hand, I do believe it is a great book and an absolute must-read for anyone who is a fan of the western genre. On the other hand, I wasn’t a big fan of Gus (it didn’t hurt my feelings when he died – I was tired of his yammering anyway) or Lorena (kept waiting for her to die to my satisfaction and she didn’t!). But Call was a very interesting character who more then made up for my lack of feeling for some of the other characters and my weariness with some other aspects of the book.
On the additional 3 factors scale, Lonesome Dove scores 1.5 of 3. While, like Gone With the Wind, I thought it was a good novel, I have no desire to read it over again.
As to stilling my inner editor? I would say most, but not all of the time Lonesome Dove did still my inner editor. Probably the primary reason it didn’t completely still me was the use of what I thought were unnecessary characters – I didn’t feel the whole July, Janey, Joe circle of characters were necessary to the book – to me they always read as characters unessential to the plotline. But this is a writer’s lesson in itself. Writers are often lectured to death about all the rules of writing – including unnecessary characters. But if you are as good at your craft as Larry McMurtry, you can break the rules and still come up with an award winning novel. So know the rules, but don’t let them chain you down – you might miss out on a Pulitzer!
Lonesome Dove is definitely a must read for any western fan.
Interesting – we’ve looked at 4 books on that top 10 list and they are evenly split at 2 western, 2 not. It will be interesting to see how the remaining 6 books on the list fare. Will update again soon.