Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wednesday's Western: A Rundown of the Best Western Novels Not Nominated

Two weeks ago, I left my rundown of western novels with the year 1973.  I mentioned Dee Brown's Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee (1971), but neglected to mention both Allan W. Eckert's The Frontiersmen (1972) and Winfred Blevins' Give Your Heart To The Hawks (1973), both of them highly influential on this reader's thinking at the time.

Both were intelligently entertaining historical narratives in the manner of Dee Brown's work, highly researched but not exactly histories, despite their careful notations and bibliographies of sources.  Both of them might better fit under the subgenre of 'frontier and mountain man novels,' more akin to the early western narratives than the formula novels that were later churned out by mass market publishers.  Also, they are both spiritually linked to the school of thought called naturalism--or as Walter Van Tilburg Clark had it, as "sacred naturalism."

Eckert, then writing scripts for television's Wild Kingdom, had been a part of the Florida group of writers that met weekly for lunch in Sarasota on Siesta Key in the 1950s.  The group contained legendary mystery novelist John D. MacDonald, Charles Willeford, MacKinley Kantor (who won the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for Andersonville), and other good ones.  Eckert told me that he and Peter Matthiessen were then the junior members of the group.  

Both Allan Eckert and Win Blevins continue to write narratives of the frontier.  Eckert, many times nominated for the Pulitzer Prize himself, most recently wrote Dark Journey (2009), a narrative of the Donner Expedition.

Win Blevins, now several times a Spur Award winner, continues to write mountain man sagas.  Earlier this year I caught up with his impressive 1998 western novel, The Rock Child, which will be the subject of this blog sometime before winter.

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