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Subgenres Within The Subgenre

There are offshoots from these western romance novels as well, including the e Native American romance and the Americana romance. Let’s look at examples of both.

I very much enjoyed Shirl Henke’s Native American-based The Endless Sky. She acknowledges research professionals and libraries in her book plus has a master’s degree in history herself. Her husband, a retired college professor, stages her battle sequences and she even has her own weapons’ expert. It certainly felt authentic to me but I know very little about the actual military campaign waged in the West by the US government. The plot revolves around a half Native American-half white hero, Chase. He lives in Boston with his rich and influential paternal grandfather. He attends Harvard and is the heir to a vast fortune founded in shipping. Chase loves Stephanie, a white woman in Boston, but leaves her to go help his Native American relatives who are being threatened with extinction in the West during Custer’s time. He becomes one of his tribe’s best warriors. There are numerous skirmishes which lead up to the battle of Little Big Horn, which is recounted in detail. Stephanie ends up in the West as well after she marries a satistic cavalry officer stationed at the nearby fort.

Once again, I picked the book by the cover when I spied it on the “new book” table at the bookstore. I’d never heard of the author before. A lot of white was also used in this cover effectively. There is a cutout on the front cover leading to the stepback which is very well done. The Indian spear against the white is where the front cover ends. You see the sky, moon and stars on the front but they are seen through the cut-out from the stepback itself. One big difference on this cover is that an actual weapon is used on the front. However, it is a weapon which is also considered both a mixed media-textile and an art work. This Indian spear has been intricately handworked with beads, leather, feathers and tails. Major art museums have similar works in their collections. It is a beautiful piece which alerts the reader of the bloody battle to come, and alerts us that the story is told from the Native-American point of view.size=4>

Stephanie and Chase, wearing only a few native ornaments, are in a natural hot pool in the stepback and are surrounded by a winter-white landscape and a white wolf. It is a lovely painted image even though he looks only slightly darker than she is. His Native American name is White Wolf, which explains the wolf also depicted in the stepback. There is no art credit given under the copyright notice but I see the name Pino written under the two page stepback so I will assume the stepback was illustrated by Pino D’angelico. (We saw his Wicked cover for author Susan Johnson in an earlier column.)size=4>

Harmony is an Americana romance set in turn-of-the-century Montana by Stef Ann Holm. Americana romances are gentler than other types of western romances, and the depiction of hero is less of hero-as-loner than hero as a part of the community. Americana romances focus, to a large extent, on the small towns in which they are set. There is less isolation and more of a community orientation.

I bought Harmony based on reviews I read about how funny it was. I thoroughly enjoyed it and laughed out loud during the sequence when the heroine, Edwina, is selling a jock strap to local townsmen. She thinks it is an elbow supporter for sportsmen. It is not only funny, it is a touching romance as well, between self-made man Tom, who owns a sporting goods and excursion business, and Edwina, who runs a finishing school next door. They even dance to Scott Joplin music, doing the rag. There is a big difference in this mythical man of the West in this novel. Even though Tom is a self-made entrepreneur, he is also a man who lives in an established society of laws. This town is settled. It has businesses and people in official capacities to run the town. One can no longer live by one’s own laws or by being the fastest on the draw. Thus, Tom must fit into the town of Harmony and even be able to schmooze with the businessmen who take his excursions and buy his goods. Edwina teaches Tom reading because it’s clear this is essential towards doing well in this new society and running his own business. This is a significantly different character from the Clint Eastwood-style hero. Society tamed Tom, not Edwina.

Although I did not pick this book by its cover, I very much liked said cover. The colors were very different, for one. The book was the first in a set of three and each is (to be) set in a certain season. This one was set in fall and the front cover shows falling, colored autumn leaves against the crisp blue sky.size=4> The stepback is not of a hero ravishing the heroine, but instead, in keeping with the story, a rather humorous illustration of a couple being wed in the great outdoors in autumn. Both the cover and stepback fit the mood of the book perfectly.size=4>

Image Eclipse

If you remember my May 10th column, I ended it with the cover for Rejar, the man from the future on the loose in Regency London. I don’t have a man from the future to invade the West this time but I have the next best thing. His name, as certainly everyone on the planet must know, is Brad Pitt and he was chosen as the lead for the western film, Legends Of The Fall. Jim Harrison wrote the original novella which was universally acclaimed as a great work of fiction but it was not well known until it was adapted for the screen.

Legends Of The Fall is set in the early 1900s and involves a family of men, a father and three sons, who live on a great spread in Montana. Pitt plays Tristan, the rebellious middle son, who is at odds with both of his brothers. Tristan goes from the battlefields of the first World War to adventures as an ocean-going sailor as he wrestles with himself eternally. When he returns home, his younger brother has died and left behind a beautiful widow. Tristan competes with his older brother Alfred (Aidan Quinn) over her. She is passionately obsessed with Tristan, lending operatic-style angst to the family.

Legends Of The Fall won an Oscar for cinematography. Hollywood studio types said it must have been so awarded for the camera work of the great outdoors. Not so coincidentally, A River Runs Through It, also starring Pitt, won the Oscar for cinematography a few years earlier. Then as well, people in the business said it must have been for the camera work of the great outdoors. The truth is that the beauty of Brad Pitt, who wore his blonde hair long for the role, eclipsed the movie itself. The film’s poster strongly features Pitt and the also-rans (I’m sure no one would kick them out of their hearth and home, however), Anthony Hopkins and Aidan Quinn. Then, on the bottom of the poster, Pitt can be seen carrying the woman across his western land. The image which drills into your brain incessantly throughout the movie is Brad Pitt’s physical face, hair and form.

What do I think of this image personally? It’s gorgeous. All three men are gorgeous. I saw the movie after seeing the poster and can barely remember anything else about it but firstly, Brad Pitt, and, secondly, Anthony Hopkins and Aidan Quinn. Ironically, the woman of the story, played by Julia Ormond, is beautiful too, but her face wasn’t even deemed necessary for the cover. Compare the /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages on this poster with the image of the man on the cover of Bowdrie by L’Amour. Which image do you think women would buy? I know my hand would inexorably move towards Legends Of The Fall.size=4>

The lesson here is that sometimes an image is so strong that it absolutely overpowers everything else. That is what I believe happened with Legends Of The Fall. Writer Harrison saw his work in much larger terms, especially in terms of man vis a vis the rest of mankind. Thus, this image arguably did not serve the original written source material very well at all. However, it did sell movie tickets, just like a great book cover can sell novels. Later, the poster was made into a cover and placed on the book.

I’d like to close by thanking AAR Reviewer Robin Nixon Uncapher for relaying to me the story line of Lonesome Dove and AAR/DIK Editor Ellen Micheletti for sharing her insights on The Virginian. All the conclusions made herein about all of the works, however, are strictly my own, which many of you may think are dead wrong. I look forward to hearing your reactions.

— Carol Irvin

with technical assistance from Sandi Morris

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