Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Story: "A First Blooding" by Max Brand (from The New Frontier edited by Joe R. Lansdale)

For more of Friday's Forgotten Books, visit Pattinase.

In 1987, an up-and-coming author named Joe R. Lansdale edited an anthology of Western short stories called The Best of the West, from which the Western Writers of America took all of that year's short-fiction Spur nominees. (If you're curious, Loren D. Estleman won for "The Bandit.")

A sequel was inevitable, and Lansdale served up The New Frontier two years later (dedicated to his "friend and favorite Western writer," T.V. Olsen). This follow-up had the same intention as its predecessor ("reaching for new horizons, new frontiers"), so it's interesting that it opens with a piece by Max Brand (née Frederick Faust), who died 45 years before its publication.

But "A First Blooding" is not a reprint; it's a 14-page excerpt pulled by Brand biographer William F. Nolan from Brand's unfinished Civil War novel, Wycherley (as yet still unpublished, since only 200 of its planned 600 pages were completed before the author's death). As one who has enjoyed all the Max Brand I've read to date, I leapt right into it.

"A First Blooding" consists of two connected vignettes wherein Yankee Lieutenant Allan Loring kills his first Rebel soldier then hears another executed. These two events are chronicled separately, and Brand seems to take two different approaches with them.

It doesn't feel much like a full story, but it is a very welcome look at the more serious writing Brand was doing before his death. In fact, the scene between Christopher Hodge and Major Acton was so effective the first time through that I went back immediately and read it again to see if I could discern how it was done.

This excerpt (only reprinted once to date, rather inappropriately in the Max Brand collection More Tales of the Wild West) certainly whets the appetite for more of Wycherley, and I, for one, would like to see it printed, however incomplete, as a testament to its author's continued ambition. (A master of the pulps, Faust deeply wanted to be taken seriously.) I'm as big a fan of his cowboy and Indian tales as anyone, but an author of Brand's stature should be appreciated for all facets of his career, and more writing like "A First Blooding" could help improve that.


David Cranmer said...

I'm just about due for another Max Brand yarn. He's very much one of a kind--if I'm permitted to use that cliche phrase.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks for remembering this for us, Craig. It seems like a short western would be difficult to pull off.

Todd Mason said...

Half the pulps at one point were western titles...but how many of the short stories they published were good is a question...but short westerns are as viable a form as short anything else...

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