Wednesday, November 6, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The Great Western Stories of Dorothy M. Johnson

My memory is getting so awful. It’s really true that multitasking on the internet is disastrous for the brain. Somewhere, on some site, some time in the not too distant past, I read a blurb about Dorothy M. Johnson. She died in 1984, so it wasn’t an obituary, but for some reason the article was bringing up Johnson’s writing and the significance of her being a woman who wrote westerns. People told her that women couldn’t, but she persevered, and she wrote some of the best known and most respected western fiction of her day. Perhaps of all time.

I had never heard of Dorothy M. Johnson, but I had heard of some of her works: A Man Called Horse and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I didn’t know why those titles were familiar–movies probably, because I hadn’t read the stories. (And in fact, looking up the movies, I did see a least a scene or two of A Man Called Horse when I was very young. Some of it was vivid enough to stick in my mind.) But I decided I needed to do the reading.

I think the book may have been lost somewhere in the library because it took a long time to find its way to me even though I was the only one on the request list. It arrived at the same time as a particularly large library haul. I put it near the top of the pile because it’s short and then I read it in a few hours. It was a few hours very well spent.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The Great Western Stories of Dorothy M. Johnson is a collection of four short stories including the title story, A Man Called Horse, The Hanging Tree, and Lost Sister.

I’m ready to join the choir singing Dorothy Johnson’s praises. The stories are quite perfect examples of the genre with spare prose and straightforward plots that nevertheless manage to kick a little. She recreates the Old West and populates her tales with characters that seem very real, or that seem to be the kind of characters I imagine populated the Old West. I won’t describe the plots of each, but there are gunfights, sheriffs, and prospectors for gold, a man caught by Indians who stays for awhile, and the return of a woman taken captive by Indians when she was just a girl. What happens in these stories is not always what you might expect, but it makes you pause and think.

These are historical, so I'm adding them to my list for the historical fiction challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry. (I'm curious to see just how much historical fiction I read in a year.)

1 comment:

  1. I've never heard of her. I'm not a big fan of westerns, but short stories might just be the ticket. And a woman! That's even better.