Here are three ARCs I picked up in the ALA exhibit hall last weekend. First up is Kathleen Kent's The Outcasts (Little, Brown, Oct), a women's adventure story set in Texas after the Civil War. Next is Leila Meacham's Somerset (Grand Central, Nov), a 600-page multigenerational epic spanning 150 years of southern and western history and the long-awaited prequel to the author's bestselling Roses. Finally we have Ivan Doig's Sweet Thunder (Riverhead, Aug), about a newspaperman's battle for justice for local miners in 1920s Montana.
All three authors have a large and eager following, based on their previous successes. These three novels have been highly anticipated (and not just by me!). And all three are set in the late 19th to early 20th-century West.
Some readers naturally gravitate towards Western fiction, while others may need quite a bit more persuading to try it – or an added hook. Such as a famous name or event, for example, or the promise of a new installment in a well-loved series. The American West isn't perceived to be glamorous, especially compared to fiction set in royal courts or grand English manor houses, and Western novels are often dismissed as overfamiliar or formulaic. As a book review editor, I admit I often have difficulty finding readers willing to consider them.
I dislike stereotypes in any type of fiction, Westerns included; that said, the exploration and settlement of the West are an integral part of American history that I enjoy reading and learning more about. These novels can offer exciting stories of adventure, independence, and discovery. In addition, I tend to read for plot, language, and character as much as setting, and I've seen how a talented storyteller can draw me into a novel and make me care about what happens regardless of where it takes place. Note the cover design of The Outcasts, too; it's a clever way to catch the attention of readers who like other novels about strong women in history.
While I was contemplating this topic as the subject of a blog post, the July issue of NoveList's RA News arrived in my inbox. It has a few additional articles that focus on Westerns: both the stereotypes that surround them and the promises they offer. Reading lists are included, too.
Are you looking forward to reading any of the three novels shown above? Do you have any other thoughts about Western settings you'd like to share?