Oakley Hall's legendary Warlock revisits and reworks the traditional conventions of the Western to present a raw, funny, hypnotic, ultimately devastating picture of American unreality. First published in the 1950s, at the height of the McCarthy era, Warlock is not only one of the most original and entertaining of modern American novels but a lasting contribution to American fiction.
"Tombstone, Arizona, during the 1880's is, in ways, our national Camelot: a never-never land where American virtues are embodied in the Earps, and the opposite evils in the Clanton gang; where the confrontation at the OK Corral takes on some of the dry purity of the Arthurian joust. Oakley Hall, in his very fine novel Warlock has restored to the myth of Tombstone its full, mortal, blooded humanity. Wyatt Earp is transmogrified into a gunfighter named Blaisdell who . . . is summoned to the embattled town of Warlock by a committee of nervous citizens expressly to be a hero, but finds that he cannot, at last, live up to his image; that there is a flaw not only in him, but also, we feel, in the entire set of assumptions that have allowed the image to exist. . . . Before the agonized epic of Warlock is over with—the rebellion of the proto-Wobblies working in the mines, the struggling for political control of the area, the gunfighting, mob violence, the personal crises of those in power—the collective awareness that is Warlock must face its own inescapable Horror: that what is called society, with its law and order, is as frail, as precarious, as flesh and can be snuffed out and assimilated back into the desert as easily as a corpse can. It is the deep sensitivity to abysses that makes Warlock one of our best American novels. For we are a nation that can, many of us, toss with all aplomb our candy wrapper into the Grand Canyon itself, snap a color shot and drive away; and we need voices like Oakley Hall's to remind us how far that piece of paper, still fluttering brightly behind us, has to fall." —Thomas Pynchon
Hall's brilliant, complex take on the American western, first published in 1958, more than stands the test of time. A newly hired gun-slinging lawman, Clay Blaisedell, tries to restore order to the mythical silver mining town of Warlock, Calif. His reputation for violence serves him well during the first robbery on his watch, but his quick trigger finger, and that of deputy John Gannon, also get him in trouble. A bizarre killing spree (covertly perpetrated by Blaisedell's best friend, a murky political figure named Tom Morgan) and an impending miners' strike (one that allows gang leader Abe McQuown to mount a charge against Blaisedell and Gannon) set up the inevitable final, blazing set of confrontations. Hall, who has written more than 20 novels, taps into the mythic essence of the Wild West with a potent combination of dense but fast-moving prose; a colorful cast of violent, corrupt characters; and a diabolical, ethically neutral worldview. His prosaic tracking of the town's violently shifting nodes of power is prescient and brings Cormac McCarthy to mind as the story unfolds. No account of the fictions of the American West can be complete without reconsidering this revelatory novel.
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Among that handful of transcendent great Western novels
immersive, compulsively readable, at times ur-Homeric. I first read this in a little cabin on the Gulf, in Baja, with the vast desert and middle-distanced mountains backed up to this palapa and featureless shoreline. And Warlock was perfectly attuned to the setting. (I also re-read Juan Rulfo’s ‘Pedro Paramo’ there, but for some reason that one seemed more syntonic with the Yucatán...).
It’s entirely enjoyable on its surface merits alone, only enriched when considered in any of several contexts. For example: it was published first in 1958 & HUAC and the blacklist are clearly reflected. And it does a good deal of cloud busting with many of the traditional Western types and tropes- the gunfighting hero and his shady gambler sidekick taking out those who must needs be taken out to preserve the life and fortune of his friend. The ingenue sweetheart, et all. Lots of fun. Better than the Oxbow Incident or the Big Sky.