Rather than being an historical novel, this is a book by and about an historical novelist. Moreover, this memoir deals with no ordinary novelist, but rather one of the most prolific and prodigious writers of the American West, Elmer Kelton. An author of over fifty books, Mr. Kelton was recently honored as the greatest Western author of all time by the Western Writers of America.
The prologue gives ample evidence of his writing skill in its almost lyrical description of his growing up on a dry and rugged West Texas ranch. Although born after the fabled settling of the West, Kelton nevertheless became acquainted with those who had achieved it. This set the stage for his novels, which consistently dismissed the mythical heroes and villains of the Old West and replaced them with the very real courageous and flawed human beings who actually lived it.
However, the rest of the book is more in the nature of a conversation with a true gentleman recalling the good old days. Kelton’s reminiscences are liberally flavored with the colorful old cowboys, writers, and journalists who gave substance to his life. Within his relatively unremarkable story are sprinkled gems of wisdom and not a small amount of advice to writers. When you’ve finished this book, you’ll feel that you’ve acquired a new friend.
Kelton’s body of work is best summed up by his characters. Rather than the seven foot tall invincible heroes of the mythical West, his are “five-eight and nervous.” The movie cowboy is John Wayne; the real thing is Elmer Kelton.