A magnificent seven of Wild West Westerns to read in anticipation and celebration of Sebastian Barry’s American Frontier epic Days Without End.
- Butcher’s Crossing (John Williams): One of my all time favourites. William Andrews leaves his life behind as a Harvard student to go on a Buffalo hunting expedition. He falls into the company of Miller who is convinced that he knows the whereabouts of a secret canyon containing thousands of Buffalo. The general themes of self-exploration, greed, humanity and bloodlust, coupled with the mythical sense of adventure ensure that this classic is one that you remember.
- Lonesome Dove (Larry McMurtry): This one won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 which is a strong recommendation in itself. It tells the tales Captains and lifelong friends, ‘Gus’ McCrae and Woodrow Call who decide to drive cattle from Texas all the way up to Montana. McMurtry tells the story with aplomb ensuring that the reader endures every dusty step of the journey north while displaying impressive prowess through clever dialogue between his multilayered characters.
- The Sister’s Brothers (Patrick DeWitt): Darkly comic, this story of two brothers is great entertainment while also having an element of seriousness. The Sisters brothers, Eli and Charlie, are ordered to find and kill Hermann Kermit Warm who is panning for gold up in the mountains. What happens next entails a series of unfortunate events and the testing of dubious loyalties. Eli Sisters fascination with his newfound toothbrush throughout the novel was a particular highlight for me. If you like Westerns and a bit of a laugh, try this one. I recently discovered that a film starring Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly is in the works.
- Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy): The definitive Western novel and one of those books that can be reread over and over. Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, follows ‘the kid’ as he becomes inveigled with the Glanton gang. The main purpose of this gang of misfits is to collect the scalps of Native Americans in return for a generous bounty. It is another character here, the Judge, who really steals the show however and it is he who will haunt your dreams when you reflect on this amazing work. A few years ago I read a review of a ‘fake movie’ suggesting a possible cast for Blood Meridian: The Movie. It’s probably the only time in my life where I knew I would be eternally frustrated by something that I could never have. Read that article here.
- 6, 7. The Border Trilogy (Cormac McCarthy): I bought this book as a three-in-one edition a few years back and reading through it was another unforgettable Cormac McCarthy experience. This trilogy consists of three novels titled All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing and Cities of the Plain. Characters and themes are carried across all three novels ensuring that when you make it to the trilogy’s conclusion you have made a journey of great transformation yourself. I will always remember the closing scenes of Cities of the Plain when it became evident the cowboy era and all its glory was coming to an end. Books like these ensure that the memory and spirit of those days will live on forever.Reading this trilogy is by far the biggest commitment on this list, but also the most rewarding.