Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Peeling thin layers off of America's mythology

I'm not going to mention that Ed Grainger is David Cranmer.  It's really not that important.  One of Big Steve King's primary rules about writing is:  STORY.  Story is what's important. 

Big Steve King doesn't go over well among the hoity-toities in college writing classes.  Never mind that half the people in any writing class I've ever taken enjoyed and wanted to write genre fiction.  Something about the university compels people to hoist their snouts high in the air and pretend writing about the time grandma announced she was a lesbian at the family Thanksgiving dinner is somehow more relevant than a story about a man bending the law in order to better administer justice to those who deserve it. 

Question:  Who cares about your goddamn grandma, other than you? 

Answer: Nobody. 

Genre fiction soars above "literary" fiction for one important reason:


The human beast craves stories.  It's what ties the individual to the Earth, to history.  It ties all individuals together and creates what we call culture.  Those cave paintings anthropologists and archeologists pee their pants over, those are genre stories. 

Just saying...

Mr. Grainger has provided us with seven stories involving his "outlaw marshal," Cash Laramie, and his rather progressive character, Gideon Miles, a lawman who might well have spent more time outrunning lynch mobs than rounding up actual criminals for the "legitimate" gallows.  Most of the stories I had read before.  No problem.  They're entertaining.  They're stories.  While each story features Cash or Gideon or both, each story is very different from the others.  The order they're in creates a progression towards the shocking, final tale, "The Outlaw Marshal." 

In the collection's stunning conclusion, one gets the impression of a concept album, or a good revenge film told in episodes.  The mood the collection has created rises to an angry pitch and crashes like a wild, psychedelic guitar solo (I'm thinking of "L.A. Blues," the last song on The Stooges record Funhouse, without question the greatest rock album ever).  This moment, however, has a logic to it.  The reader has seen the treatment of Gideon Miles by the society around him, the reader has had his or her heart broken in a story about a young girl who is abused by her father, the reader has held his or her breath while an American Indian is forced to hide while the marshals, just doing their jobs, search in vain to bring him back to a vicious lynch mob (tip of the hat here to Mr. Grainger's co-writer on that particular story, Sandra Seamans).  The reality of the west, the reality of the United States, is played in these stories as matter-of-fact, as it should be

I place the efforts of Ed Grainger right up there with The Searchers, my nomination for Best Freakin' Western Movie Ever.  Like The Searchers, the exploits of Cash and Gideon refuse to blink in the face of uncomfortable truths.  Mr. Grainger accomplishes what "literary" writers attempt without the self-conscious, self-congratulatory melodrama that plagues "literary" fiction (why the hell is "literary" fiction even called fiction?..)  The post-modern elements in Mr. Grainger's stories fit nice and snug with the narratives they are a part of.  The reader isn't slapped in the face with a big sign that says: MESSAGE.  The result is an enjoyable read that will make you nod and say, "Yeah, that sounds about right."

Isn't that what a good story is supposed to do?  Here are seven that do it extremely well.


  1. I liked the 'variant' elements of these stories as well. Not quite traditional western stories, they have a touch of the outsider about them, a little wildness. It's good stuff.

  2. I agree, Charles. And for the western, isn't a little wildness absolutely appropriate?

  3. Killer review of a very fine collection, Alec.

    You're right on--story is where it's at. I live in Iowa City, where the Writer's Workshop is, and, yeah, I really relate to that rant against literary fiction. I hear these arguments all the time about how, whenever literary folks deem genre fiction to be good, it's suddenly "transcended" the genre. How silly.

  4. Chris, are you working on an MFA at U. of I?

  5. Nope. Working on getting my teaching license.

  6. This was a damn fine review, Alec. Always appreciated, sir. I'm very thankful to the crime, horror and mystery communities for coming out and supporting Cash and Miles.

  7. Chris R-- Oh. I was asking because I'm considering applying to U of I. I realize I'll be competing with 1200 other writers but what the hell?

    David-- No problem. Keep on writing those westerns.

    Chris -- Thanks.

  8. I enjoy your passionate reviews, AC.