Sir Barken Hyena writes:
This recent collection has been generating some buzz around my Facebook circle, which includes the author, so I thought I’d give it a try. Now, I read hardly any fiction, but I can see that’s going to have to change because I’ve been missing out. Not only hardly any fiction, I’ve never read any Western fiction at all, though I am in fact a Westerner (albeit a transplant, but I’ve heard it said we’re the true Westerners).
I am a fan of the genre in film though, and I feel that Westerns touch on some of the most important aspects of life: how to be good and civilized when nothing is backing you up but your own conscience, and how to be a man – and how to be a woman, in the face of all that. I see the experience of the veterans of the World Wars as key to the genre in a way, since these issues were lived by so many in such desperate circumstances. And this makes the genre a tonic to those like myself who feel like the world today has lost its way in insignificance and trivia, and narcissism too.
So with no priming in literary Westerns, I’m free to approach these stories without prior expectations or preferences. I find they match the very best in Western film, in character, in atmosphere, in deep examinations of the issues I touched on earlier, and in sheer story-telling bravado.
Fonvielle meets my first requirement in prose: I dig his voice. You’ll find no purple prose here, no convoluted thesaurus odysseys, though he will throw in an occasional flash of eloquence when it’s needed. He can do it, he just doesn’t need to. He gets out of the way like a good writer should and lets the stories carry you off. You feel like you’re listening to some dude around a campfire telling a great tale.
Another requirement that’s met: unpredictability. You get a sense of where things are headed but you’re never right. And where the stories end up often casts a new light on events prior, so there’s a nice layered quality to the action. These stories echo around your mind long after you’ve finished reading them.
Given my ignorance of the genre, I can’t compare to others, but I was often was reminded of two authors: my dear departed brother Douglas Fletcher, and Paul Bowles. Doug was a bluegrass song writer, and his lyrics were of a kind with Fonvielle’s stories. Here’s an excerpt from his song Bad John:
BACK IN THE OLD DAYS IN KENTUCKY
UP WHERE THE MOUNTAINS HIDE THE SUN
THERE WAS A MAN MADE LIKE NO OTHER
AND THE PEOPLE CALLED HIM DEVIL JOHN
SOME SAID THAT JOHNNY HE WAS EVIL
SOME SAID THAT HE WAS THERE TO SAVE THE LAW
BUT WHEN THEY LAID HIM DOWN IN THAT COLD GROUND
HE WAS THE TOUGHEST MAN THOSE MOUNTAINS
DEVIL JOHN YOU RODE PROUD LIKE A HERO
& YOU ALWAYS DID YOUR TALKING WITH A GUN
AND IT’S TRUE THAT IN THE END YOU GOT SAVED
THROUGH AND THROUGH
STILL THEY’LL ALWAYS CALL YOU DEVIL, JOHN
THEY SAID HE WAS THE LOVER OF THE VALLEY
‘COS HE TOOK A WIFE ON EVERY OTHER RIDGE
AND I’M NOT ONE TO GO AROUND TELLING STORIES
BUT THEY SAY THAT HE HAD 27 KIDS
I WONDER JOHN WHEN JESUS COMES TO TAKE US
AND OUR EARTHLY GRAVES THEY ALL GO OPEN WIDE
WILL YOU GO RIDING WITH THE ANGELS
OR GO HUNTING FOR ANOTHER BRIDE
GO HUNTING FOR ANOTHER BRIDE
He sounds like a character right out of 14 Western Stories. To me, it’s the same resonance, the same scent of inhuman humanity.
As for Bowles, I’ve read his short stories and they remind me of Fonvielle’s not on stylistic or substance terms, but more the strange atmosphere of possibility, extremity and unreason. And a contained jewel-like brevity. But there’s a big difference: there was no tenderness in Bowles’ world, but there’s a beautiful romanticism under the horror and senseless violence in Fonvielle’s world. Rather than a world that’s all strange with no meaning, it’s world where sometimes, by chance and by struggle, things really do work out O.K. And then others times, not. And that makes for a very balanced and full reading experience. These stories fire on all cylinders.