The return of the western
Vail, CO, Colorado
Inexplicably, the western epic has disappeared in recent years, perhaps because nobody dared to touch the genre since Larry McMurtry published “Lonesome Dove,” the great American novel.
Fear not, the sweeping western has returned courtesy of a seemingly unlikely source. Jack Todd is a draft-dodging Nebraska native who became a Canadian citizen, and went on to a successful sports writing career until a strange package arrived at his doorstep.
The package’s contents would form much of the basis for “Sun Going Down,” a true western complete with ropin’, romance, idealism, shootouts, cattle and covered wagons.
Inside that mysterious parcel were journals, diaries, and letters preserved by the Todd family that recounted the days of their ancestors in search of adventure in the wild, wild West.
“Sun Going Down” traces the adventures of Ebenezer Paint as he heads west, seeking adventure and hoping for fortune. It’s 1863, the thick of the Civil War, and Paint has grown weary of the destruction surrounding him, fearing for his life during gruesome battles along the Mississippi . He pushes west, where the buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play, in search of new beginnings.
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From here, we trace the Paint family as it moves into the high plains country of what would become the Dakotas, Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming. It’s the journey that kicks the story into high gear.
As the Paints navigate the plains, we’re introduced to a Sioux tribe desperately trying to understand the influx of violent white folks, and understand the aggression they bring to the placid plains, as well as a host of other characters.
Chief among this myriad cast are Ebenezer’s twin boys, Eli and Ezra, who are quick with a joke and even quicker with their fists. The Paint twins have a penchant for trouble, and when they can’t talk their way out of it, they punch their way out, providing a substantial amount of humor and action in the book.
The story moves along briskly with a grisly portrait of Wounded Knee, and those affected, and the despair of the dust bowl. Todd takes us right into the roaring ’20s as America prepares to conquer the world.
At times “Sun Going Down” feels a bit rushed, trying to cover roughly 60 years of history in 464 pages. Just as the characters seem to be settling in, we’re whisked away to another place and time in their future.
Pacing aside, Todd weaves an intricate portrait of the settler’s life, and while it’s not “Lonesome Dove,” it’s not Louis L’Amour camp either. “Sun Going Down” feels honest, and probably is since Todd culled much of the background, events and characters from his own family’s life and times.
And there are few other reading joys than that of the western, a tried-and-true genre that makes a triumphant, entertaining return.