THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Thursday, July 23, 2015


The following are some quick looks at a few books dealing with war that I think deserve a 5 out of 5 rating:

WOE TO LIVE ON, Daniel Woodrell, (originally published in 1986)


This is early Woodrell and a departure from what would come later.  Woe To Live On is a work of fiction, but is nevertheless an accurate depiction of the dirty little guerrilla conflict fought in Missouri during the Civil War in which nobody won and everybody lost.  The title of the movie based on the book was RIDE WITH THE DEVIL (1999). 

Woodrell, who lives in the Missouri Ozarks, knows the history and the territory.
Later he would become best known for stories and novels that he characterized as country noir.

THE YOUNG LIONS, Irwin Shaw, (originally published in 1948)


I had always believed that there were three great American World War II novels that shared the common characteristics of being written by veterans of that conflict and being published during its immediate aftermath.

They are: The Naked and the Dead (1948) by Norman Mailer; The Caine Mutiny (1951) by Herman Wouk; and From Here to Eternity (1951) by James Jones. But I need to add a fourth book that belongs in the same company: The Young Lions (l949) by Irwin Shaw, a book that was originally overshadowed by the others.

I first read The Young Lions about twenty-five years ago. Based on my memory I ranked it below the aforementioned books. However, as a result of my recent re-reading of the book, I see that it was better than I remembered.

With one exception, these novels are enriched by the fact that they are based upon the writers’ personal experiences during the war. The exception is The Naked and the Dead. Mailer did serve in the Pacific, but saw little combat and ended the war as a cook in the Philippines. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it does mean that his classic story of a reconnaissance mission on a Pacific island was not based on his personal experience.

One of the ways that I judge my enjoyment of a book (or a movie) is whether or not I am willing to revisit it. Well, I have now read The Young Lions twice and the others three times each. Twenty-five years from now I plan to read Shaw’s book for a third time.

THE BIG WAR, Anton Myrer, (originally published in 1957)


 A reviewer for The Saturday Review made the claim that The Big War was "incomparably the finest novel to come out of World War II..." I don't quite agree with that evaluation (after all, I have read it only twice), but I do think it is a classic.  Like the finest novels dealing with that conflict, it was written by a veteran who was able to draw upon his personal experience.

The film adaptation is titled IN LOVE AND WAR (1958).

QUARTERED SAFE OUT HERE, George MacDonald Fraser, (originally published in 1994)


A memoir written about a young British soldier's experiences in the Burma campaign during World War II. Skillfully written, it reads like a novel. And no wonder. It was written by the author of the hugely popular and critically acclaimed "Flashman" series of historical novels.

 THE FORGOTTEN SOLDIER, Guy Sajer, (originally published in 1965)

 Forgotten Soldier.jpg

The author makes the claim that The Forgotten Soldier is an account of his experiences as a teenager in the German army fighting on the Eastern front against Soviet Russia.  Some experts believe that it is an authentic memoir while others dispute that claim and insist that it is a novel. Whether memoir or novel, it is a powerful book.

Once Upon a Distant War: David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan, Peter Arnett--Young War Correspondents and Their Early Vietnam Battles, William Prochnau (originally published in 1996)

 Front Cover

The following individuals should read this book: 1) anyone interested in the Vietnam War; 2) anyone interested in journalism; 3) anyone not interested in the Vietnam War; 4) anyone not interested in journalism; 4) everyone.


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