Sunday 21 April 2024

Only Good Ones by Elmore Leonard (1961)

Valdez is Coming.

I am quite fond of Elmore Leonard's dialogue-driven and lean prose that is devoid of any unnecessary exposition. "Only Good Ones" is riveting right from the opening sentence, steadily building tension and suspense towards an explosive finale. He quickly sets the scene and launches directly into the action, allowing readers to gradually fill in the gaps of the story through snappy dialogue and different character interactions. There is a certain authenticity and rhythm to the colloquial speech patterns associated with frontier life, often advancing the plot and revealing character motivations. There are a colorful cast of characters, but no lengthy descriptions or backstory. Each of them is shaded with their own distinctive slang, quirks and and mannerisms. 

The author boldly subverts classic Western archetypes, unraveling the prevalent mythos of the genre. Particularly noteworthy here is highlighting the often forgotten or ignored history of anti-black racism. These Western pulps were designed as thrilling entertainments meant to captivate a broad audience with their high-octane narratives. They were meant to be consumed rapidly before moving on to the next one, like binge-watching a really good television show. Within their pages, one would encounter the familiar archetypes—the noble sheriff, the rugged cowboy, the villainous outlaw, the damsel in distress—typically depicted in straightforward moral terms. However, Leonard's approach to this genre stands apart--more specifically, in their complex themes, characters and moral ambiguity. 

The harrowing portrayal of racism and violence towards black people is a rarity within conventional Western narratives, making this story an anomaly. Beyond its gripping entertainment value, this narrative contains some unexpected depth, particularly in its nuanced handling of racism within the Western genre. Rather than glossing over or romanticizing historical injustices, the story confronts them head-on, offering a thought-provoking exploration of the complexities and consequences of racial prejudice in the Old West. In doing so, it elevates the narrative beyond mere entertainment, inviting readers to confront uncomfortable truths while still delivering an immersive reading experience.

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