The Shootist

The Shootist

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University of Nebraska (Bison Press) 2011

If a university press such as Bison Books decides to reprint an "out of print" novel, that usually means the book has special or sufficient literary merit to make it worthy of being kept in print for posterity. My guess is the Lincoln, Nebraska academics conclude it may be approaching "classic" status. Besides winning the "Spur Award" in 1975, the Western Writers Of America have placed it on their all time best list ( ). However, a word of warning! If, because you saw the John Wayne movie version, you think you need not read the book, I'd reconsider! Miles Swarthout, the deceased author's son, explains in his informative and illuminating nine page introduction why the movie did NOT quite turn out like the novel! Second, just because one of the main characters is a seventeen year old boy or, because it is just a Western, it need not be relegated to the kid's or YA shelf. This is serious, "grownup" American literature by an accomplished American writer. You can place it along side True Grit, Lonesome Dove, Ox-bow Incident, Valdez Is Coming, and etc. Western readers will quickly recognize parallels with another real work of literature titled Shane: ending of the frontier West, gunfighter with a past and no future, boy coming- of-age, family relationships, and a society hostile to "shootists" but rely on such courageous individuals to cull the criminals from the civilization garden. By 1901, John Bernard Books is the last living gunfighter and he's dying of prostrate cancer. As the story progresses so does his disease. His El Paso doctor suggests an alternative, ' "If I was in your circumstances, I know what I would not do...I would not die such a death as I just described..not if I had your courage...And especially your skill with weapons." ' Obviously, Hollywood was not comfortable with a young Ron Howard mirroring the book's rebellious, even sociopathic Gillom Rogers character. At one point, J.B. confronts Gillom upon discovering he had sold J.B.'s horse and pocketed the money. It would be difficult imaging "Opie Taylor" saying this to a dying man: ' "[Books]What did you plan on doing with the money?" ' [Gillom]' "I planned to get the hell out of here...Buy a gun...Kill a few barflies and get me a reputation...I'm as good with a gun as you. And you can't fight for sour apples...So just remember, Mister Blowhard..." ' [Books] ' "You sneaking little bastard.' ' [Gillom] ' "Hah. You dying old son of a bitch." ' He later even steal the money Books left his mother. In exchange for Books's guns, Gillom arranges three gunmen to meet Books at the town's fanciest bar. J.B. is not going to die a humiliating, painful death. Instead, he's going to go out as he lived--in a blaze of hot lead and gun smoke. However, it doesn't quite work out as planned. The British writer D.H. Lawrence wrote, “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” What might thaw Gillom's soul? Law and order must always contend with hard cases. And every generation will have its SHOOTISTS! As with all exceptional literature, this novel is an iceberg with plenty of themes under the surface. Readers can enjoy it just for its ripping good story, or contemplate its numerous reflections of our values and culture. Frank Norris, an earlier author, said, “The Great American Novel is not extinct like the Dodo but mythical like the Hipogriff.” Our country is simply too diverse for any ONE novel to represent it. However, Westerns may come closest in capturing the dominant American psyche and character. Might it include the "Shootist's" creed, ' "I will not not be laid a hand on. I will not be wronged. I will not stand for an insult. I don't do these things to others. I require the same from them." '? Glendon Swarthout was no "one book" author. Two time Pulitzer Prize nominee, 1960's & 70's readers might remember his teen classic, Bless The Beast And Children (1970--over 2,000,000 copies) or The Homesman which so impressed Paul Newman he bought the movie rights. As a well known British publisher said of Swarthout, he was the author "...with the widest range of any writer he knew of."

215 pages

Ages 14 and up

ISBN: 978-0803238237

Highly recommended by Robert L. Hicks, Librarian, Arkansas City High School, Kansas, USA

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