Title: The Shootist
Author: Glendon Swarthout
My Rating: 1/2
First a summary; this story follows J.B. Books, a legendary gunfighter who finds himself going to El Paso to seek out a doctor that once saved his life. He takes a room in the house of Mrs. Bond Rogers where she lives as a land lady with her wild teenage son. The doctor comes and confirms what he’s already been told; he has prostate cancer, advanced stages and his death is not going to be pretty. This is 1901, Queen Victoria has just died, telephones are in homes and Books is a man of the old world. He finds himself at 51 rapidly declining in health and at the mercy of his landlady who does not approve of him and his wold ways.
We are taken into a contemplative raw and realistic journey of what it means to reach the end of your life and have little but reputation to show for it. How a man, who before was a living legend, spends his days holed up in his room slowly decaying until the point he can no longer bathe.
Swarthout gives us an unflinching west where things do not turn out how you would expect them to, where people are not always all good and not always all bad. He gives a bleak portrayal to what could have otherwise been a cookie-cutter hopeful ending. I was incredibly drawn to Books’ decline and how he still manages to hold on to his dignity until he’s basically screaming in pain. I also found the language incredibly daring and modern, Books recalls his sexual trysts, openly discusses a woman’s orgasm and does not hold back describing the pain in his genitalia.
The relationship between Books, Mrs. Rogers and her son are the central aspect of the book and I thought it was both realistic and romantic in its respect. I really enjoyed reading the journey of the aging gunslinger and how strange the entire world suddenly seems to him. Needless to say, I highly, highly recommend it.