Max Evans wrote The Rounders out of necessity in an attempt to get money to support his family. It was his first novel, published back in 1960, a tragicomedy, as he himself describes it. It is a novel of what was then contemporary cowboys, bawdy for its times (although it is tame by modern standards), a comic buddy story about two perpetual adolescents in a constant state of coming-of-age. Hence the tragedy.
Reading it today, the comedy is in the way it is told rather than in the sadsack foibles of its protagonists or the cantankerous wiles of its leading horse. Evans says that he read a lot of Will James in preparation for writing the novel. Indeed, his narrative style here is marked by the same cowboy vernacular, the same sincerely bemused way of looking at the world. Will Rogers, Will James, and Max Evans. When I think of one of them, the other two come to mind.
I also think of them when I listen to radio segments of "Lives of the Cowboys," with Garrison Keillor's characters Dusty and Lefty the obvious counterparts of Max Evans' Dusty and Wrangler.
In the introduction to the 2010 50th Anniversary Edition, Max Evans tells the story of the book and how it came to be published and filmed, a wild tale in itself involving Fess Parker, Burt Kennedy, Sam Peckinpah, William Wellman, and many other Hollywood legends, directors, writers, and actors.
Burt Kennedy (who would go on to make Support Your Local Sheriff in 1969 with James Garner) eventually made The Rounders into a 1965 movie starring Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, Sue Anne Langdon, Hope Holiday, Chill Wills, and Warren Oates. It seems like a YA movie today, though the bare-butt scene with Langdon and Holiday was deemed scandalous at the time, leading to an expanded pictorial in Playboy Magazine.
The Rounders was a landmark western, but to this reader, it is not nearly as interesting as some of Max Evans' other novels, to be the subjects of Wednesday's Western or Friday's Forgotten Novel one day soon. Born in 1925, Evans has outlived most of his famous friends, but he is still writing important books.