Monday, 24 January 2011

The Shootist - Glendon Swarthout

With the imminent release of the Coen brothers’ ‘True Grit’ it might seem logical to go to the source, Portis’s novel, but instead I recently bought this, the basis of what would become another vehicle for Wayne.
   Swarthout’s keen on describing the anatomical impact bullets can have on a body, which adds a distinctive flavour to this superb novel. He also doesn’t shy away from describing the terrible decline gun man Books endures as cancer sets about doing what mere men could not achieve. These assaults on the body are contrasted with great flights of lyrical prose as Books, imprisoned in his room, contemplates his past, present, and very brief future.
   Meanwhile vultures, those standard signifiers of death in Western cinema, fly in to peck at his cancerous body, but here they take the form of those who would benefit from his death. A photographer, journalist, minister, former lover, and the teenager, Gillom, all want a piece of the legendary shootist. The latter proves to be particularly treacherous as he changes from wide-eyed worshipper to mercenary and, ultimately, potential inheritor of more than just Books’s guns.
   The ending is much darker than what we see on screen, which is no surprise considering Hollywood’s desire to impose a sense of moral correctness when it can. The manner of Books’s death and the way Gillom is portrayed are profoundly different.

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