Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hombre by Elmore Leonard

Title: Hombre
Author: Elmore Leonard
Publisher: Ballantine (1961)

I've heard some of the folks in Cali are enduring a hot, dry summer. Lucky, lucky you, Michael! But, turns out, lucky me, way down south; the days are getting longer and I saw some buds on the Wisteria climbing my porch. Also, my chives are bustling about making lots of new shoots. Yay, spring! I can't wait. But we're not here for me to yap about how happy I am that winter is ending. It's booky/movie time!

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here. 

Click here for Michael's film review of Hombre

An unscheduled, impromptu stage (of the wagon variety) is carrying six passengers from Sweetmary to somewhere else in Arizona. Each passenger has a unique and urgent reason to be making this journey. They each seem pretty solitary (even, oddly, the husband and wife) but they are quickly united in their disgust at having a man in the stage who lived for a time with the Apache people at San Carlos Reservation. When the stage is robbed, motivations and alliances become even more confused.

...if they knew he'd been living like an Apache most of his life, right up until a little while ago? Would it make a difference to them? I had a feeling it would. I didn't think of myself as one of them, then; now I don't see why I should have left myself out.

The above is from our narrator, Carl, who does a relatively good job at analyzing his own reactions to John Russell (the titular character) and, even when he doesn’t, his first person perspective is consistently thought-provoking for the reader separate from whether or not he manages genuine self-reflection.

...he reminded you of ... almost everyone of them you ever saw: all made of the same leather and hardly ever smiling unless they were with their own look-alike brothers. Then they were always loud, loud talking and loud laughing.

The scene from which that quote derives occurs early in the novel but remained with me throughout. Here is an instance when Carl absolutely dead-on describes a couple of seemingly minor players in this drama by comparing their hard, blustery behavior to each other. (Carl, by the way, defaults white as he only ever specifically notes when people are not.) His choice of words paints an immediate picture and becomes more real as the story progresses. On the other hand, he gets quite a few of his first impressions wrong. 

It's easy for the reader to do this, too. Leonard has quite cleverly crafted this story, with this narrator, to leave a lot for the reader to decide. On the surface, it’s a reflection of the youth and inexperience of the narrator, below that it's a lovely piece of craft on Leonard’s part. In fact, if you read this closely, paying attention to the many perspectives and prejudices that are revealed from beginning to end, it’s clearly about more than just the narrator's fascination with John Russell.

"How come you didn't tell them?"
"Tell them what?"
"That you're not what they think."
"Does it make a difference?"
"Sure, they're wrong. But is it easier to convince them of it or just forget about it? You understand that?"
"I'm learning," Russell said.

On top of what can only be described as a sociological study it’s a pretty exciting hold-up. My experience of Westerns is limited (and, unfortunately, mostly negative) so maybe the way this plays out is a dime-a-dozen situation but it doesn’t feel like it. Buried in the straightforward robbery are a multitude of motives, betrayals, victims, and aggressors. 

And I haven't even mentioned Mrs. Favor or Kathleen McLaren. My thoughts on Mrs. Favor would be a huge spoiler so I'll skip them, and McLaren could easily have a post of her own (hell, she could have her own book) which will make this too long so I'll just say: check this title out! Leonard's characters certainly don't disappoint (in a fictional way. i don't think i'd actually like to know any of them:). Also, it's quite a delight that this book is concise and focused. No extra fluff, it gets right to the point. How refreshing!

"I got a question," Russell said.
Braden was squinting to make out Russell in the window. "Ask it," he said.
"How you going to get down that hill?"

Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post. 

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Coming up next:  
The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton


  1. AnonymousJuly 31, 2014

    Came here via Michael's piece and wanted to say I enjoyed your post on the novel. It's a short, tight work, quite typical of Leonard in its brevity, style and depth. Great to see someone who hasn't had the best relationship with westerns finding one which works for them. Try out some of Leonard's other westerns - maybe they're not as well known but they are worth it.


    1. Hi Colin, thanks for the visit and the kind words! I will definitely be trying some more of his Westerns. I really liked the style of his writing and the story he chose to tell. When I finished the book I read a short intro to the novel that he wrote and it, too, got me very intrigued to try out some of his other works. And I so very much enjoyed the "short, tight" aspect of the book. I'm a huge admirer of fewer words saying more. It's an impressive skill.

  2. Glad to hear your enjoyed this, Rachel. I know this genre is not your favorite, but am happy you decided to give it a go. I really wanted to read this, as I hadn't prior to this. The film was one of the first that intrigued me toward author Elmore Leonard. I've been steadily going his list of novels and short stories. Admittedly, the crime side, but I haven't been disappointed with those of the venerable oater variety. Obviously, I wasn't disappointment with 'Hombre'. Hell, I quite loved it, and for all has become associated with this author.

    As Colin, above, said. It's that "…brevity, style and depth" he brings to the table. How he fashions a quip or description that means miles more than others attempting the same. As I mentioned, the film adaptation removed the McLaren woman for their invention of 'Jessie'. A trade-off, for as personable and witty Jessie was onscreen, after reading this, Kathleen would have brought another dynamic that would have been more than interesting.

    Anyway, all this just encourages me to offer up next year more Elmore Leonard titles for us to look at. Many thanks, Rachel :-)

    1. Hey Michael, I think it was a great suggestion and how fun that it was your first time reading, too. This project of ours definitely gives the opportunity for adding in older titles we always meant to read but just haven't yet.

      I already asked this over on your blog but, if you don't end up answering it there, do you think McLaren might have been left out due to the age disparity between her character and Newman's?

      Glad we both liked this one. Maybe another Leonard Western will be in our future. Thanks!