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I’ve been meaning to get back to some sort of review on this one, especially since it seems the same-titled Eastwood movie is now showing all the time on various cable channels. I think it’s now considered a “classic” Western. It’s a pretty good movie, and I seem to like it better now than when it first came out. The book, The Outlaw Josey Wales is not a movie tie-in novel. The original effort was actually titled The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales, and Gone to Texas (which I think also contains the one sequel, Josey Wales: On the Vengeance Trail. The book is actually very good and impressed Eastwood enough to film it. It’s Pulp, but it’s Grade A Pulp of a thoughtful kind. The author, Forrest Carter, is himself quite a story. He was evidently an unapologetic opponent to Reconstruction, a Klansman (or former Klansman) who shot two or three of his brethren in an argument over finances, a speechwriter for George Wallace, as well as an award winning writer who found himself on Oprah’s reading list – for a while at least. It’s a murky, dark story that you can Google up on Wikipedia. To Carter’s credit, he keeps most of this considerable ideological baggage largely in check. Oh, it’s there, but not in way that poisons a good story. Josey Wales is a farmer caught in the murderous Border war between Missouri and Kansas that preceded the actual Civil War by a good five years. In 1858 Josey Wales would lose both his wife and young son to a “Redleg” raid. (The Redlegs are Yankees.) Wales then rides under the Black Flag of Bloody Bill Anderson. Wales is on a mission of vengeance that dovetails perfectly with the Civil War. Carter does a deft job of juggling the complicated history as well as the psychology behind a man like Wales, Scots-Irish to the core:If Josey Wales had understood all the reasons, which he did not, he still could not have explained them to the boy. There was, in truth, no place for Josey to go. The fierce mountain clan code would have deemed it a sin to take up life. His loyalty was there, in the grave with his wife and baby. His obligation was to the feud. And despite the cool cunning he had learned, the animal quickness and the deliberate arts of killing with pistol and knife, beneath it all there still rose the black rage of the mountain man. His family had been wronged. His wife and boy murdered. No people, no government, no king, could ever repay. He did not think these thoughts. He only felt the feelings of generations of the code handed down from the Welsh and Scots clans and burned into his being. If there was nowhere to go, it did not mean emptiness in the life of Josey Wales. The emptiness was filled with a cold hatred and a bitterness that showed when his black eyes turned mean.But the War eventually does end, and Wales must make choices that require his leaving the geography he calls home. This is another area where Carter excels, showing the changing American landscape as Wales transitions from Missouri to Texas. At his best, Carter descriptions had me recalling Cormac McCarthy, and that’s a good thing:Imperceptibly, the land changed. The buffalo grass grew thinner. Here and there a tall spike of yucca burst a cloud of white balls at its top. Creosote and catclaw bushes were dotted with the yellow petals of the prickly pear and the savagely beautiful scarlet bloom of the cactus. Every plant carried spike or thorn, needle or claw . . .necessary for life in a harsh land. Even the buttes that rose in the distance were swept clean from softening lines, and their rock-edged silhouettes looked like gigantic teeth exposed for battle.Along the way, Wales (as in the movie) acquires a train of dependents. There are a number times when extreme violence of the Tarantino kind takes over, and Carter handles gun battles and Indian torture like a pro. There are some slight differences from the movie (which is pretty faithful). One big difference is that Wales’ Indian companion, Lone Watie, is a more heroic figure. In the movie, Eastwood used him as comic relief. If you enjoyed the movie, I highly recommend the book, since it adds historical texture along with greater character development.

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