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Book Title: Hombre|
Loaded: 1309 times
Reader ratings: 7.4
The author of the book: Elmore Leonard
Date of issue: March 5th 2002
ISBN 13: 9780380822249
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 9.53 MB
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Elmore Leonard is synonymous with capers, cons and contemporary sharpies chasing bags of cash, but in the 1950s and '60s, in the days of pulp magazines, John Wayne at the picture show and Gunsmoke on the small screen, Leonard operated in the western genre. His beat was the Arizona Territory of the 1870s and his frontier pieces were more war stories or tales of survival than oaters. One of the more popular is Hombre, published in 1961. Novella length, this slim volume lacks the superlative humor or finesse of his crime novels and is clunky in fits, but is harrowing and stayed with me once it was over.
The tale is the first person account of Carl Allen, a young clerk with the Hatch & Hodges stage line. Stationed in Sweetmary, his office and all stagecoach service out of it has been closed due to competition from the railroads. And it seems that everyone wants out of town. There's 18-year-old Kathleen McLaren, rescued after one month's captivity by the Apache and returning to her family. Dr. Alexander Favor is a reverend by title contracted as an Indian agent by the government to sell beef to the reservations. His wife Mrs. Audra Favor is fifteen years in his junior and doesn't think much of Indians.
Anticipating he might learn something from Dr. Favor on the road to Bisbee and maybe get familiar with "the McLaren girl," the narrator proposes to his boss Henry Mendez that their "mud wagon" be conscripted into a stagecoach. Mr. Mendez volunteers for the job as driver, hoping the trek will compel a young mustanger named John Russell to accept some sound business advice Mendez has advised him to accept. Only 21 years old, Russell is a veteran of the Indian police and known as Tres Hombres for his fighting prowess. Though fluent in English, Spanish and Apache, he speaks little, letting his .56-56 Spencer rifle do his talking for him.
According to Mr. Mendez he was most likely three-parts white, as I have said, and the rest Mexican on his mother's side. John Russell himself had no memory of his father and only some memory of living in a Mexican village. Probably in Sonora. At that time they say the Apaches were forever raiding the little pueblos and carrying off whatever they needed, clothes, weapons, some women, and sometimes boys young enough to be brought up Apache-style. Which is what must have happened to John Russell. Piecing things together, he must have lived with them about from the time he was six to about age twelve.
Insisting he also be sold a ticket on the mud wagon is Frank Braden, a tough hombre who mistakes Russell for an Indian and tries bullying him out of his passage. Getting nowhere, Braden locks in on weaker prey, an ex-soldier trying to get home to his wife. Carl regrets not standing up for the soldier but when he asks Russell why he didn't do anything either, it's obvious that Tres Hombres is preoccupied with looking after A-Number One and letting someone else be a hero. In the stage, Braden makes some ungentlemanly comments to the McLaren girl concerning her experience with the Apaches, but Carl stops short of reprimanding the tough customer.
Stopping to refresh the horses at Delgado's station, the travelers are notified that three riders stopped earlier in the night. Dr. Favor presents concern and compels Mendez to alter their route to an old road past the abandoned San Pete Mine. Carl is dubious that bandits present a danger to their unscheduled charter, but Mendez agrees to change the route rather than argue about it. Sure enough, two armed men hold up the stage, assisted on the inside by (view spoiler)[Frank Braden (hide spoiler)]. The target of their heist is an ill-gotten gain of $12,000 that Dr. Favor embezzled from the United States and from the Indians he was supposed to be buying beef for.
Russell is content to let the four bandits--which include two white trash ranch hands he's brawled with before and a Mexican--steal their horses and Mrs. Favor, but when one of them returns for their water, Russell does some talking with his Spencer rifle. Russell grabs his blanket roll and canteen and heads off in the opposite direction, leaving the others to do whatever pleases them. They follow him. Convinced that the three remaining bandits will be along for their water, tensions escalate, with no one save the enigmatic Tres Hombres sure of what they're capable of or what they'll have to do in order to survive.
"Finish it," I said, understanding him, but I guess not believing what he was asking us to do. "You mean try and kill them?"
"If they get close enough," Russell said, "they're going to kill you."
"But they didn't harm anybody before. Why would they want to now?"
"Do you want to give them your water?"
"They got water."
"Two canteens which they were drinking out of all day yesterday. Do you want to give them yours?"
"Then they'll kill you for it."
Until then it seemed just a matter of running and getting away or running and being caught and they getting the money after all. But kill them or they would kill us? It was a terrible thing to think about and you couldn't help but looking for other ways. Run or hide. Run or hide. Those ways kept popping into your head while Russell just sat there looking down the draw and waiting.
Hombre is loaded to bear with mortal danger that Elmore Leonard does a terrific job of conveying to the reader. In addition to getting lost, running out of water or tiring out your ponies on the way to Bisbee, there's Frank Braden, a frontier menace. Braden reminded me of Lee Marvin as the title character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and his harassment escalates the existential crisis for the protagonists. As opposed to being nonstop action, Leonard's story exposes six characters to their mortality and each respond to it in different ways. The author's prose is spare and provided just enough description to make me trust that he knew this world and how it operated.
That said, Leonard could not have written a more passive narrator than the greenhorn at the center of this one. Russell barely acknowledges Carl, as if he knows this white man is useless, and even the McLaren girl he's sweet on doesn't mistake him for a man to depend on. Told in flashback as Carl gives his version of a survival story which has been spread throughout the west by newspapermen, Leonard foreshadows one event too many and deflates much of the suspense in the process. The action, though thrilling becomes a bit long in the tooth, with the long distances the characters are covering and their trepidation of getting too close to each other dragging out a story.
What I found compelling about Hombre was how visceral it is, with Death jumping the characters and pursuing them until the end. The title character who proves so vital to the survival of each character remains barely known to them, complicating their feelings about survival. The novel was the basis for a 1967 film adapted by Irving Ravetch & Harriet Frank Jr., directed by Martin Ritt and starring Paul Newman, all of whom collaborated bringing Larry McMurtry's novel Horseman Pass By to the screen as Hud in 1963. Well received critically and commercially, time has not been as kind to Hombre and it was not embraced by its author.
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Read information about the authorElmore John Leonard lived in Dallas, Oklahoma City and Memphis before settling in Detroit in 1935. After serving in the navy, he studied English literature at the University of Detroit where he entered a short story competition. His earliest published novels in the 1950s were westerns, but Leonard went on to specialize in crime fiction and suspense thrillers, many of which have been adapted into motion pictures.
Father of Peter Leonard.
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