Book Review – The Tonto Woman and other Short Stories by Leonard Elmore

    I grew up on Louis L’Amour westerns.  I have read a stack of them literally six feet high.  I've read many of them over and over and over... they are my comfort books, and I can often tear through one in an evening.  I’ve tried Zane Grey, but I was not impressed.  It was too long ago to remember why.  I dove into this book by Elmore with low expectations, but it was a collection of short stories, so I wouldn’t get trapped finishing a whole book just because I started.  It would be easy to chip away at the stories if they weren’t interesting.  They were.

    Louis L’Amour taught me how to be a man... I used a quote from one of his books in an argument once.  “When I take a man’s money, I ride for the brand.”  If statements like that don’t make an impression on a young mind, nothing will.  L’Amour taught me how to stand up to wrong even at my own expense.  I was always infuriated by a bully.  He taught me that it is okay to be silent but strong.  He taught me that it is okay to want to be alone, and what to expect from a life lived that way.  He taught me survival skills.

    Leonard Elmore’s collection had the same elements, but the stories were a little more adult, a little more raw.  This is not to say that L’Amour didn’t have rough examples of violence in his books.  For those of you who know spaghetti westerns and have seen the Deadwood series, Elmore gets closer to the grit like those, but no other western has actually gone as far as Deadwood.

    Two stories stood out; The Tonto Woman and 3:10 to Yuma.  The Tonto Woman has a lot of elements for such a short story.  The horse thief’s chivalry... earnest chivalry, not just for chivalry’s sake.  The Tonto woman’s strength and then her being set free from acceptance of her situation.  The husband’s idea of “doing right” by his religion, more for the sake of doing right than through concern for his wife.  The not-so-perfect ending.  Usually we read about a main character who has his struggles, and everyone else is there for the sake of being an obstacle or a help.  This is true of even the longest books.  We are introduced to these “extras” and, as we read, we are thinking about how these ancillary characters are affecting the main character.  The Tonto Woman had me understanding the separate, personal struggles of three characters in a very short time.  They were individuals.

    3:10 to Yuma was made into a movie, but the movie was very different from the short story.  The movie had the small characters more involved and also had extra, important depth.  The movie was ok, and what I got from it helped me get more from the short story.  There was a question in my mind after reading...  A man proves that, in no uncertain terms, he will do the right thing and carry through the task he has been given.  He will perform this task even when he has the likely possibility of being killed by those that oppose his duty.  He performs this task even though he is only paid a lowly wage, and even when he is offered much more to stop... even when much more includes getting to walk away alive.  He never fools himself into thinking he has a good chance.  He is scared.  Honestly, the only way he makes it through is luck.  He is not the confident hero who always comes up with a brilliant plan at the 11th hour.  He has proven his integrity.  The question is, how do we use this man afterwards?

    Do we put him to all of our deadly tasks, knowing that he will carry them through and not be tempted by bribes?  We would also have to admit that we know it is only a matter of time before he gets killed.  Do we reward him by keeping him safe, in this case letting him go back to arresting drunks?  Do we retire him for doing more than most?  He is rare.  Every way it is looked at appears to be a waste of a good man.  I honestly don’t know what to do.  I know he would scare the hell out of politicians, who cave to corruption without the threat of death.

    Those two stories stuck with me, but I enjoyed all of them.


Beyond the book:

    I have already gone beyond the book in my comparisons to Grey and L’Amour.  I wanted to tell a story about the L’Amour books, though.  I had a neighbor who yelled constantly.  This guy was drunk every night and screaming at his wife and older son.  It was obvious that the son was allowing his parents to live with him, and this dad was constantly irate and unappreciative.  There was a younger boy, who I took to be the grandson.  This was a chubby, shy kid who was outside all the time with nothing to do.  You could tell he didn’t want to go home to that anger.  I thought about the example that was being set for him, and felt very sorry.  One day I brought out a couple of my L’Amour books and handed them to him.  I thought they would show him what they showed me about being a good person, and that they could be an escape for him.  I was extremely pleased (ok, I probably cried a little) several months later when he asked for more.  They moved away after that and I never got a chance to ask him what he thought.  I hope he reads them until they fall apart.

    For those that get this far in these reviews, I know it has been awhile since I did one.  I have read and finished a couple other books from Brad’s collection, but they were a little too intense for me to report on without a re-read.  Reviews for Fast-Food Nation and The Invisibles are coming soon...  I will have to resist reading the last two books that Mari reviewed until I get these two done!