1958. The 1880 shootout at the OK Corral.
I once lived in Arizona. I visited Tombstone and walked those mythic steps made memorable thanks to TV, movies, the generally accepted version of the settlement of the Wild West. Wyatt Earp. The tubercular Doc. The Clanton Gang.
As always, the physical reality of Tombstone and the Corral was a million times smaller than the version modeled on my imagination. Like Mount Rushmore: a miniature compared to what you expect.
Oakley Hall takes that mythic western moment and reduces it to its human elements, reduces the heroes to actors in a play not of their making, reduces every human actor to a slave of community.
Imagine the shootout as not the end of the story but the beginning. How did the showdown come about and then what did those sorry actors end up doing after those thirty seconds of gunplay? And what about the real power players, pulling the strings of those gun-toting marionettes?
Hall peoples this corner of the Wild West with characters that make you feel that if you were among them, you would have struggled to find your place. And probably with as little success as most of them had.
Just like today, we can only play the cards we’re dealt, at the time they’re dealt, for the stakes on offer by the other sharks at the table. We are all a bundle of strengths and weaknesses, of aces and twos, of hearts and clubs.
I don’t know why this book doesn’t get more attention. It’s so much more than a Western. By exploring the human elements of the western myth, Hall creates a mythic tale.