When James announced he was going to be hosting the Hop-along, Git-along, Read-along for May, I knew I had to do it. Not only do have an extreme fondness for James because he has been my longest-standing follower, but I knew exactly what I was going to read..."Outlaw" by Warren Kiefer. This is the only western I've ever read in my life (originally read before I started blogging), but ranks in my top ten reads ever.
I convinced James to read this little (well, no so little...518 pages little) treasure with me. Because we love doing little joint projects together, we posed questions to each other to answer in our reviews. I will use these questions to help me express my thoughts about this book the second time around.
Synopsis: In a narrative format similar to hanging out on the front porch and shooting the shit, 89-year-old Lee Garland reminisces about his life, his pearls of wisdom, his dreams and defeats. Something all old men love to do. This is no ordinary life though. Lee's adventures represent the definition of the establishment of the West and of this country from the late 1800's until the present day of 1968. If there was something exciting going on anywhere in this time frame, Lee Garland was in the middle of it.
Orphaned at a young age, Lee was raised by a hard-working Mexican family in New Mexico. He begins his young adult life smuggling cattle, rubs elbows with Pancho Villa, fights in the Spanish-American War as a Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba, becomes a banker, gets into the oil business, making and losing millions, becomes an ambassador to Mexico. He has fought in WWI and WWII, has friends in high places and has made bitter enemies. He has buried children, friends and wives.
In a gregarious, honest-to-a-fault, addictive voice, we are given an insight to the West from a man that was a born leader, a risk-taker, and endearing despite his bull-headed lawlessness.
James: How did you come across Outlaw in the first place?
Sandy: This book was recommended to me by two men that my husband works with. Both men are avid readers, but are more inclined to read books that I would call "man-fiction" (a genre I am drawn to...love all that testosterone). They both told me, with wide wide eyes and huge smiles on their faces, that it was one of the best books they'd ever read. They glowed and they gushed. Accepting this book to read was a huge leap of faith for me. I didn't "do" Westerns. I learned a very valuable lesson here.
James: How was the experience of re-reading Outlaw different from reading it the first time?There is so much going on in this book, that re-reading it was just as good the second time around as the first (which was about six years ago). As with this go-around, I could focus on nothing but getting through it. The tone is easy and conversational, and there is never NEVER a dull moment. The opposite in fact - it is a whirlwind.
Not to be pompous, but I believe I am more discerning with literature now than I was six years ago. So I was scared I would find flaws. I needn't have worried though. I WAS more aware of a great deal of prejudice expressed by Lee and his friends towards women, Indians, Mexicans and gays. I was concerned that this could offend other readers, but it never dawned on me to worry about this when I was reading only for myself six years ago.
James: I think Mr. Kiefer, or maybe his narrator Lee Garland, has a woman problem. I honestly couldn't buy the scenes with Lee and Caroline, the great love of his life. While the men in the novel all came to life for me, most of them anyway, the women never really did. There aren't many women in the novel and I don't think the narrator is reliable, so I'm willing to cut Mr. Kiefer some slack but I didn't find the women of Outlaw to as memorable characters they the women in Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove though the women in both novels are the same sort of characters. What did you think about the portrayal of women in Outlaw?Sandy: I'm going to have to slightly disagree with you here James. Just slightly. Generally, the opinions of the male protagonists about women in this book were derogatory...that they tie you down, that a little nooky from local prostitute is totally acceptable, and that they aren't that smart. I didn't like it, but I figured this was how things worked back then. However, I did buy into Lee's great love for Caroline. I think initially it was based on her beauty and her unattainable status, but he wouldn't be the first guy. He never wavered from his love for her though, even when he married someone else. Kiefer also had a couple of other strong female characters in the book, ones with cunning, money and power. Overall, though, this was a story about strong white men, period.
James: You asked me about the prejudice in Outlaw. My reaction was that Lee Garland, the main character, was pretty forward thinking for his day. If anything, the novel contains much less prejudicial language and attitudes than existed at the time. What took me by surprise were Lee's tirades against Democrats. But all of this is historically accurate. If you're going to read material dealing with American history, you're going to need a thick skin. Many westerns deal with the conflict between the heroic "cowboy myth" and the reality of their lives. Heroic gunslinger, men of action, types in westerns are often portrayed as relics or soon to be relics of a by gone era. At the end of the day, many westerns leave us asking if men like Lee Garland are heroic characters and if they are men America can take pride in. Lee Garland mentions this conflict towards the end of the novel after seeing a discussion about himself between William Buckly who admires him and another man who calls him a robber baron. (page 551) What do you think of Lee Garland and his generation? Heroes or scoundrels?Sandy: Yes, the prejudice just hit me over the head when I read it this time around. But I've never read any other Westerns, so I had no basis of comparison. It didn't necessarily bother me - I consider myself to have very thick skin. But it did cause me some concern that others might take offense.
I loved Lee Garland and his homies. I loved Lee's friendly, humble and self-deprecating voice, which made this book so totally unique. These guys were deadly loyal to each other, with lifelong friendships solidified by camaraderie in the hard times of war, business and general survival in a wild and woolly country. They were full of piss and vinegar, and didn't always follow the rules. They killed people! They stole money and cattle! But I think at this time in history, it was survival of the fittest. They wouldn't have made it had they stayed purely honorable. So to answer your question, I think they were both. I think it is possible to be both. Nobody got to the top back then without being just a tad bit of a scoundrel. Sure we can have pride in them. I mean, really. Are their actions any worse than what we see in our political leaders now?
James: Finally, will this lead you to more westerns?
Sandy: Oh without a doubt! I'm a little concerned they won't measure up to "Outlaw", my first Western love, but I'm willing to try. Everyone says "Lonesome Dove" is amazing (although it's girth scares me to death). But I no longer have the pre-conceived notion that Westerns are for men, or old-fashioned. This is cutting edge stuff here!
Be sure to hop-along over to Ready When You Are, C.B. to get James' opinion on "Outlaw" and answer my questions!
5 out of 5 stars