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Warlock-Oakley Hall

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Warlock
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Автор: Oakley Hall,

Жанр: Современная проза,

Серия: New York Review Books Classics, Legends West,

Издательство: NYRB Classics,

Язык: en

"Tombstone, Arizona, during the 1880's is, in ways, our national Camelot: a never-never land where American virtues are embodied in the Earps, and the opposite evils in the Clanton gang; where the confrontation at the OK Corral takes on some of the dry purity of the Arthurian joust. Oakley Hall, in his very fine novel Warlock has restored to the myth of Tombstone its full, mortal, blooded humanity. Wyatt Earp is transmogrified into a gunfighter named Blaisdell who. . is summoned to the embattled town of Warlock by a committee of nervous citizens expressly to be a hero, but finds that he cannot, at last, live up to his image; that there is a flaw not only in him, but also, we feel, in the entire set of assumptions that have allowed the image to exist. . Before the agonized epic of Warlock is over with — the rebellion of the proto-Wobblies working in the mines, the struggling for political control of the area, the gunfighting, mob violence, the personal crises of those in power — the collective awareness that is Warlock must face its own inescapable Horror: that what is called society, with its law and order, is as frail, as precarious, as flesh and can be snuffed out and assimilated back into the desert as easily as a corpse can. It is the deep sensitivity to abysses that makes one of our best American novels. For we are a nation that can, many of us, toss with all aplomb our candy wrapper into the Grand Canyon itself, snap a color shot and drive away; and we need voices like Oakley Hall's to remind us how far that piece of paper, still fluttering brightly behind us, has to fall." — Thomas Pynchon Oakley Hall's legendary revisits and reworks the traditional conventions of the Western to present a raw, funny, hypnotic, ultimately devastating picture of American unreality. First published in the 1950s, at the height of the McCarthy era, Warlock is not only one of the most original and entertaining of modern American novels but a lasting contribution to American fiction.

      Oakley Hall

      Warlock

      INTRODUCTION

      ONE YEAR in the early Sixties, shortly after I met my literary agent Candida Donadio for the first time, she gave me a novel to read. To my surprise it was a western, by Oakley Hall, a writer of whom I had heard good things. The last western I had read was a book of Zane Grey’s about hunting mountain lion somewhere around the Grand Canyon. I had no idea what I would think.

      I remember thinking how wonderfully clear the book was. Not only clear, as I remember, but full of light. The sensation of reading back into time was very strong because the style made itself invisible as good style will when it is accomplishing its purpose.

      Rereading Warlock I found again the light I remembered, an afternoon brightness, a clarity that is, I think now, the essence of good realism. In an almost literal way it illuminated the characters. When it focused on individual lives it seemed to vary its distance from each character as though there existed a different extension of sympathy or a withholding of it for different individuals in the narrative. The light I guess I had recognized the first time as western light. Big Sky light. Realism, I had thought at that time. This is good realism. And I became aware of the skill, the strategy of placing one line upon the other.

      Now I know — I think I know — that modalities like realism, magic, hyper, or otherwise, have only the vaguest application. Nothing is real; life is life and language is language. Really excellent prose like Oakley Hall’s is the creation of sound, of songs, unheard, which, as they say, can be very sweet. Overall I felt the artistry at work, or maybe I should say at play. But at the core of Warlock was something stronger and more mysterious.

      Years ago Richard Slotkin wrote the third, concluding volume of his work on the mythology of the American frontier. Published in 1973, the final section bore a title intensely evoking the era of the trilogy’s composition — the Vietnam War and its inglorious concluding years. The title is Gunfighter Nation.

      Slotkin’s books on the frontier are very wise and insightful. They are particularly relevant to the work of Oakley Hall and, of course, to Warlock. If I had read the title presenting America as a “gunfighter nation” a few years ago I would have believed that it bore the ugly mark of the domestic conflict over the Vietnam War. Perhaps too deeply. The country in its cowboy suit — a double disguise behind which lurks a posture of innocence and of menace, infantile self-deception enhanced by cheap theatrics. The contemptuousness is very nearly savage.

      In fact, though, the professor’s arraignment by nomenclature is far less facile, trivial, or even sarcastic than it seems. Slotkin’s work is scholarly, and it sets out to untangle the strands of myth and mytho-poetics in America’s perception of itself. Much of the energy of the study goes into examining American mythmaking and defining different kinds of myth. At one point Slotkin quotes the great master and observer of myth D. H. Lawrence, a stranger in a strange land:

      But you have there the myth of the essential white American. All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust are a sort of by play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer. It has never yet melted.

      Slotkin uses this citation to distinguish between the kinds of created mythologies America characteristically requires to “do what it has to do.” The good sheriff, a strong peaceful man; this is pop myth. The killer-stoic who lurks just below the surface of an essential collective consciousness is the real thing. No one realizes this better than Oakley Hall.

      Warlock recounts a series of violent events in and around a town of the same name set in a southwestern territory during the 1880s. The account, placed partly in a fictional character’s journal, is an examination of the deeper portending of these events. Goodpasture, the diarist, reflects on the balance of justice in the light of which the first series of killings might be viewed. A deputy has “buffaloed” a local cowboy on a drunken spree, beaten him and inadvertently caused his death. Eventually avengers come and succeed in settling the score. Things like this happen, Goodpasture writes, “in this rough-and-tumble corner of creation… happen… and are usually considered no more than too bad.”

      The “rough-and-tumble corner of creation” referred to is the American frontier in the last decade of its formal delineation, for the frontier will be officially terminated by the Department of the Interior in 1890. In fact, as the diarist knows but denies, nothing in this last resort of misfits, opportunists, professional killers, and impossibly long odds gamblers is ever accepted in fact as “no more than too bad.” An overriding and thoroughly hopeless necessity to come out ahead, to come out ahead “of the next strong man” or of precarious things themselves, drives everyone as they put one more day of frontier existence on top of the last.

      The stories of the Old West that Americans have grown up on render aspects of the frontier experience mythical, while reflecting the central American myth that Slotkin calls “regeneration through violence.” These stories are not myths themselves, though; they are the substance of America’s mythopoesis. For Warlock Oakley Hall uses bits of the gunfight at the OK Corral, the Lincoln County War, the Johnson, Wyoming, cattle fight, and a few others. As Slotkin writes and Oakley Hall subtly demonstrates:

      In American mythogenesis the founding fathers were not those eighteenth-century gentlemen who composed a nation at Philadelphia. Rather, they were those who (to paraphrase Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!) tore violently a nation from implacable and opulent wilderness — the rogues, adventurers, and land-boomers; the Indian fighters, traders, missionaries, explorers, and hunters who killed and were killed until they had mastered the wilderness…

      In the evocatively named town of Warlock (shades of Young Goodman Brown) the Apaches kill and die and are followed by the Mexicans who slaughter the gringo cowboys and are killed by them. The US Cavalry having helped decimate the Indians and Mexicans are now used against white labor by mine owners. The murderous cattle barons who made their own law in the Rattlesnake Valley are driven down and out. America, aspiring toward her self-generated pseudo-myths, remains a prisoner of her deepest true ones.

      — ROBERT STONE

      WARLOCK

      This book is for my son Tad

      PREFATORY NOTE

      

      This book is a novel. The town of Warlock and the territory in which it is located are fabrications. But any relation of the characters to real persons, living or dead, is not always coincidental, for many are composites of figures who live still on a frontier between history and legend.

      The fabric of the story, too, is made up of actual events interwoven with invented ones; by combining what did happen with what might have happened, I have tried to show what should have happened. Devotees of Western legend may consequently complain that I have used familiar elements to construct a fanciful design, and that I have rearranged or ignored the accepted facts. So I will reiterate that this work is a novel. The pursuit of truth, not of facts, is the business of fiction.

      — OAKLEY HALL

      BOOK ONE: THE FIGHT IN THE ACME CORRAL

      1. JOURNALS OF HENRY HOLMES GOODPASTURE

      

      August 25, 1880

      DEPUTY CANNING had been Warlock’s hope. During his regime we had come to think, in man’s eternal optimism, that progress was being made toward at least some mild form of Law & Order in Warlock. Certainly he was by far the best of the motley flow of deputies who have manned our jail.

      Canning was a good man, a decent man, an understandably prudent man, but an honorable one. He coped with our daily and nightly problems, with brawling, drunken miners, and with Cowboys who have an especial craving to ride

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