Sunday, 9 August 2015

"The Homesman" by Glendon Swarthout

   This book was recommended to me and sat on my 'reading pile' for awhile.  I picked it up twice and read a few pages, but then was pulled away by other books.
  Finally, I picked it up for the third time, and I was hooked!
  It is a dismal tale of the Old West and it took me three tries to adapt to 'the dismal'.
  The challenges of the long winters, amidst extreme poverty, cause some women to 'go mad'.  The travelling minister finds a way to deal with this situation.  In the spring, he searches for someone to escourt them back east.
  Mary Bee Cuddy was the character that attracted me and hooked me into the novel.  She had been a school teacher, who bought a homestead and set up on her own. A willful, strong, interesting woman.
  It is Mary Bee Cuddy who volunteers to escourt these ladies on this journey that lasted for weeks.  Mary was kind, thoughtful and loving to the pioneer women.  She had saved a reprobate, Briggs, from hanging and coerced him into accompanying this band of travellers.  This made for great adventures with an ice storm, sickness, Indians, and breakdown of the wagon.
   However, the author ruined the whole story with a twist that took all the light out of the story and returned the reader to 'dismal, depressing'.  From there, the story went quickly downhill.
  I am always disturbed when a book that has such promise, throws it away.

Review from Amazon:  "Utilizing a classic western plot of a journey across rough land under perilous conditions, a mismatched pair of protagonists who'll remind many readers of those in "The African Queen", the author tells a sturdy if by now familiar tale.  Unfortunately, once the novel goes wrong, which it does with a bizarre, alienating plot twist about three-quarters of the way through, it never recovers."
The book received 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon and many people loved it.  But I agree with this response:
"I was so disappointed about this book.  It starts focusing on a strong woman and shifts suddenly to focusing on the no-account man, while the woman goes crazy.  Why is this book popular?"

This author has written 16 Western novels- many have been made into movies.  He wrote "The Shootist" (John Wayne's last movie).  This book was made into a movie ( with Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones) that also got a good review, and I read that the movie was very close to the book.
The book won the Western Writers of America's Spur Award as well as the Western Heritage Wrangler Award.  Who is on the panel of those awards?  Do they not care that 'good' lost?  And the drunken, fowl-mouthed, claim-jumper, killer,ended up dancing on a ferry as he shot at those on shore?  And, the last reminder of the kind-hearted woman (a headboard for her grave) slipped into the water unnoticed. 

In the republished book, the authors's son writes about the research that his father did for the book. 
 But it doesn't take research to know that people who invest their time in reading a book need and deserve a little light or hope at the end!

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