First Line (Preface): Missouri is called the “Mother of Outlaws.”
I’ll come clean right off the bat… Clint Eastwood’s 1976 film The Outlaw Josey Wales is my favorite film. Gone to Texas is the book that the film is based on, so I am a bit biased. It’s been on my “To Read” list for ages, and now that I have relocated to Texas myself, it seemed rather fitting to finally get around to it.
It’s rare that I feel a movie is as good as the book that inspired it. Too often I walk away grumbling about what was left out, changed, or added. That’s not completely the case with Gone to Texas, however. In this case, I think the movie is actually better than the book. Yes there were some changes, especially in the closing chapters, but all in all I think those changes, especially the ones focused on story organization and conflict, were not just warranted, but essential to the new medium.
That’s not to say, though, that I didn’t care for the book. Just the opposite, actually. I really enjoyed Gone to Texas, and found it to be a fun, fast-paced read. Much of the characterization and dialogue in the film was taken directly from the book, including the oft-quoted “I reckin’ so” and “whupped ’em agin, Josey!” At one time I was a voracious reader of westerns, but this is the first I’ve read in almost 20 years. It was a good place to start, and I’ve found a new genre to dabble in for my pleasure reading.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Gone to Texas is Carter’s dedication to the pivotal moments of Josey’s life – the turning points. This easily could have been a massive book with extensive scene descriptions, complicated subplots, and characterization exposition. Instead, however, much like a screenplay, Carter hones in on the action sequences and allows the decisions and actions of his characters to define their characterization. The end result is a story that moves quickly with little to bog it down.
While this does provide a constant do-or-die feeling for Joesy, it also, unfortunately, relegates the supporting characters to rather thin presences in the novel. They are nowhere near as complex as their film counterparts, and more often than not appear as paper-thin caricatures that do little more than serve as a specific stereotype for Josey to deal with as he makes his journey from Missouri to Texas. Yes, the decisions Josey makes based upon those stereotypes is integral to his own personal journey, but their shallowness never really leaves any doubt as to what those decisions are going to be.
Still, though, it’s a fun read. If I wasn’t such a fan of the film I’m not altogether certain that I would have enjoyed the book as much as I did, but in the end I was very happy I finally made time to read it. There are two subsequent books in the series as well, but I’m not altogether certain I’ll read them. They are both on my “to purchase” list, but so are a lot of other books that I’ve been meaning to get around to. Gone to Texas was fun, but it didn’t really inspire me to keep on reading the series.