The Western is one of those things. Like rock and roll. Like theater. Jackasses in coffee houses everywhere are always pronouncing it dead. There’s seductive evidence to suggest that diagnosis correct—Hollywood has a hard time prying its big fat wallet open to finance a Western (never mind that the God damn town was practically built on the genre). The only way television could get a Western going in this day and age was by shuffling it off to the “naughty” corner of cable and filling its character’s mouths with nonstop profanity. Stroll into most book stores (the ones that still exist, speaking of a dying species) and you’ll probably find one shelf of Westerns with the safe, traditional names on the spines. Here’s the problem, though, here’s why there’s no authoritative signature on that particular death certificate: The Western is not dead. People read them, people watch them, and people like Edward A. Grainger, aka David Cranmer, are fueling the genre with fresh stories and characters that satisfy both old and new conventions.
Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles has been out for a short time and garnered enough attention to demonstrate that there is not only sustained interest in the Western, but new blood ducking in to take a peek and, if we are to believe the avalanche of praise Grainger’s first collection has received, liking what they see. And why not? Without the self-conscious posturing of postmodernism, Grainger has, in fact, crafted a postmodern west that takes into account the conspicuous absence of non-white, non-protestant members of the American family. Grainger is not one, I suspect, to bellow about “political correctness” and “inclusion” and “diversity” and all the other buzz words that college campuses and public service announcements like to drill into our heads in effort to keep the masses civilized. Like that old adage about faith, them that shout the loudest, we should assume, believe the least. No, Grainger very quietly sits wherever it is he writes and creates stories about the old west that fill in a lot of spaces left by previous generations of writers and filmmakers.
I compared Volume I to John Ford’s The Searchers and I stand by that comparison. Like The Searchers, Grainger’s stories address America’s racial and ethnic realities in a straightforward manner so refreshingly free of self-consciousness that one is able to read the stories purely for entertainment or as the subtle political statements that they are. Grainger has, in short, achieved that great balance between form and function. In my opinion, this should be the goal of any serious artist.
On the surface, these are entertaining tales. Cash Laramie is part Dirty Harry, part Billy Jack. Of course, he walks the Earth a hundred years before those great vigilante characters of the 1970s. He benefits from a more relaxed attitude towards rogue justice. The result is a character who punishes bad guys the way all of us, deep down, would prefer. Thus, men who abuse children are dispatched without all the pesky paperwork and legal acrobats criminals benefit from today. Bigots who hang people simply because they don’t like the color of their skin are brutally tortured and left for dead. In Volume II, Cash continues his brand of “outlaw” justice, repositioning that tricky line between “right” and “wrong.” We are also treated to the story of Cash’s origin. Gideon Miles does not play as significant a role as he did in the first collection of stories, but his appearance here reinforces my belief that Edward Grainger is telling tales of the west in a much more honest manner than any writer or filmmaker has attempted before and he is doing so without begging for an “atta’ boy!” from the coffee house crowd.
There are some who would argue that Cash Laramie’s “outlaw” justice is just that—beyond the borders of the law and therefore suspect. I think they are missing the point. American mythology is twisted in contradictions that brutal lawmen like Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles untangle with gut decisions we all wish we could execute every time we watch in horror as the justice system fails to discipline someone who is obviously guilty. These stories nurture a basic human desire to create a world that makes sense emotionally. In that way, they are a kind of medicine, don’t you think?