Thursday, October 13, 2011

CBR-III: Book #52: The Strong Shall Live

Technically I finished the Cannonball Read a while back. I’d read another of the Women’s Murder Club, another Jason Bourne book, and another Jack Reacher book, but since I’d done a mass review of those I felt a solo review would be kind of cheap. Then I read Cowboys and Aliens by Joan D. Vinge thinking it was what the film was based on and finding out it is a novelization of the screenplay (its almost identical, but provides a little more character development and a different ending). The original is actually a graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. Basically I wanted to end on a high note and not sell myself short. I wanted to look good.

“They came west to stay, risking their blood to dig the gold, ride the range, conquer the greedy, and carve out a legacy of freedom. Men honed by desert fires and edged by combat with fist and gun. Women tested to the limit of endurance by an unrelenting land. Now, in a long-awaited collection of his stories, Louis L'Amour tells of the real heroes of the frontier, the survivors for whom hanging tough was as natural as drawing breath.”

-That’s the description for Louis L’Amour’s The Strong Shall Live.

I’ll be honest in admitting that the son of a man who owns damn near every one of L’Amour’s books just read one of his for the first time. My dad even has the whole leather bound collection. I’ve never been a big fan of western writing though. I love western movies, but the writing always seems to bore me with vast descriptions of landscape…like Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. That book took me three weeks to read.

The Strong Shall Live is exactly what its description said; a collection of short stories about really tough people. It opens up with the story of Cavagan, a solitary man cut from combat and natural hardship he’s the thorn in the side of a group of outlaws. After extensive tries to make the man leave, including attempts to kill him, the leader of the outlaws takes him out in the middle of nowhere (without food, water, or ammunition) and dumps him, leaving him for dead. Only Cavagan knows the land, and he’s stubborn.

That very first short story is the namesake of the series, “The Strong Shall Live.” The rest of the book follows a similar pattern. My favorite was “Hattan’s Castle.” The story follows Bon Caddo, a giant of a man, also solitary, who takes to mining a piece of land in peace. The town, however, is led by John Daniel. He’s a ruthless cutthroat that likes his hands in everything. Originally he tries to get one of his men to bring Caddo in to “talk.” When that doesn’t work he sends his private, prettiest girl, Cherry Creslin to go talk him in. Only Cherry falls in love with Caddo. Daniels sends someone to kill him, that doesn’t work, so Caddo brings the fight to him. I don’t know why I loved that particular story more than the others. I just did.

The great thing about Louis L’Amour is that everything he writes about is real. Maybe not the actual characters or the story themselves, but the environment. As my father told me…”If L’Amour writes about a creek or a cave. They exist. They are right where he says they are.” It’s an admirable trait and one that grew on me. I like that he’s traveled over the areas he writes about, that he has actually led an interesting life himself, and I loved that these short stories dealt with quiet, tough people. The characters aren’t glorified outlaws. They’re not gunslingers or gamblers. They are normal, hardworking people. One of the stories, “One Night Stand,” involves an actor who is hired to drive a young gunnman out of town. He pretends to be Wild Bill Hickock and frightens him away.

As a person who is not a fan of western literature I cannot recommend the book more. It’s wonderful. A fantastic little glimpse at the opposite side of frontier life. Away from the known famous ones like Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid. A derailment from tales of prostitutes and alcoholics.

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