68 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2001
Warlock was an enormous genre-stretch for me, someone who doesn't usually go in for Westerns at all, generally sticking to horror and science fiction on the popular end of the literature scale; and with ummm... modernist and po-mo novels and poetry on the non-popular end. In fact, it was my favorite author, Thomas Pynchon, mentioning "Warlock" as an influence and college favorite in his preface to Richard Farina's "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me," who led me to read it. That said, I have to add this is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding books I've read in a long time. In particular, I thought the plotting and pacing were superb; after finishing a section one is surprised by how many pages have gone by in description of--so it seems--such basic action, but the pages turn easily and quickly with no sense of padding. The writing itself is confident and understated, believably pitched, seemingly unmannered; and for me the dialogue had just the right balance between plain English and "dadburned" Westernisms, going lightly on the latter. The characters appear in sharp focus and maintain appropriate perspective. (Though an important subtext throughout concerns the pressures between real men and their deeds, and their images as heroes and characters of legends and fiction.) Underneath it you have the existential Western bass line a reviewer above mentions, a handful of pessimistic figures having to do with the nature of justice and human relationships, above which are rung 450+ pages of changes. The stark, hot, dusty, minimalist, claustrophobic setting almost reminds me of Beckett; and there's more than a bit of that author's permutational exhaustion at work here, as a handful of (static or only slowly evolving) characters interact like the rolls of dice from a gambler's hand.
Pynchon, in a tiny essay on the book, says that 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."
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2006
Page 408 of Warlock contains the following:
"Men are like corn growing. The sun burns them up and the rain washes them out and the winter freezes them, and the cavalry tramps them down, but somehow they keep growing. And none of it matters a damn so long as the whisky holds out."
I don't usually read books that talk about whisky and cavalry, but this one was really good. Although a lot of the writing is like the quote above, the plot is a fairly sophisticated examination of the practical complexities of human morality. At first glance, the two main characters seem to be from the wild west boilerplate, one good guy and one bad guy. But the good and the bad are close friends, and they actually identify with each other qutie a bit. There's also an ugly guy who turns out to be the closest thing the book has to a hero. In contrast to the standard cowboy-movie theme, the characters struggle with the difficulties of figuring out what it would even mean to be good, bad, or ugly in a place that has no real laws and exists permanently on the brink of extinction. Apparently the book was made into a movie, but I would bet that it didn't translate well.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 1999
Although you won't hear much talk about this book today, it was well thought of in its day, and they even made a movie of it with Henry Fonda. The movie is good, but this book is better. This is pretty much an existential western, our hero a man confronted with living up to a code which even he knows is phony and impossible to sustain, and those who love him trying to make it possible for someone, anyone, to live their life truly. Unfortunately, when the hero knows this is happening, conflict ensues. Well, it's a great book, a better western than The Ox-Bow Incident, with more action and a more provocative theme.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2006
I was googling for info on the interesting and enigmatic Thomas Pynchon recently, when I came to find out that this book I had never heard of: "Warlock" by Oakley Hall was one of his all-time favorites. As luck would have it, I found an e-bay auction about to expire with a first edition hardcover copy of the title and snapped it up as quickly as I could. The surprises which come from a sense of adventure in book choices are one of the great pleasures of my life. I have now read this book and can say in all honesty that it was one of the most powerfully told, beautifully rendered, exquisitely crafted books to land on my lap in my recent reading life. The fact that it's a "Western" put me off before I started, but that feeling flew out the saloon doors instantly upon meeting the book's intriguing cast of characters, people who are forced to face their fondest hopes and most terrifying fears in their struggle for justice and a peaceful future for the town of Warlock. My highest recommendation.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2011
No, this novel has nothing to do with Charlie Sheen. Instead, it's one of the four great (20th century) Western novels, along with True Grit, Butcher's Crossing, and Blood Meridian.
Instead, it's a literary version of the TV show Deadwood. A 19th century frontier town struggling with issues of law/justice/order, union organization in mines, and the politics of incorporation into the United States. The attention to political and personal power dimensions within Warlock is impressive. It can be a difficult read at times because the ensemble cast is extensive, and remembering information about 15-20 townspeople (and bandits) can be frustrating. Perhaps a guide a la 19th century Russian tomes might have been helpful.
For anyone well-versed in Western mythology, this is a goldmine. I have as of yet been unable to figure out the connections between the politics of the period (the last 1950s), the author, and the political and cultural perspectives that Warlock portrays and supports, but it would be fascinating to compare Warlock to the more popular manifestations of Western mythology which were so popular in the 1950s (in TV and film), such as The Wild Bunch, Gunsmoke, High Noon, and the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The fundamental dichotomy between Clay Blaisdell, the hired gunslinger-marshall, and Bud Gannon, the outlaw turned deputy (with a heat of gold), underscores the question of frontier justice.
A combuination of War and Peace, Deadwood, and perhaps some Steinbeck, the novel doesn't feel the need to openly ruminate on the manifold questions it raises. Like the conversations of its characters, it retains gritty and direct without explicit explications of its implicit meaning. This is a good thing.
Were it not for its title, Warlock mightbe appreciated for the novel that it aspires to be -- and is -- and one might make the point that it should receive more academic or scholarly attention. More to the point, it should be read and appreciated for the tremendous novel that it is.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Just this week marked the one year anniversary of Oakley Hall's death, a giant of American letters, albeit one whose reputation always burned far brighter among writers than it did among the general reading public. While the rerelease of "Warlock" Hall's masterpiece may not herald him getting the readership he deserves, perhaps it will be a step in the right direction.
With "Warlock" Hall succeeded where only a fine writer really can, taking a well trod genre and then stretching and bending it into something fresh and innovative. At a cursory glance, the characters and setting will feel familiar to most American readers, since the Western is so deeply imbedded in our culture. Yet "Warlock" goes beyond such conventions. The characters are rich and complex, John Gannon among the most memorable of any I've encountered in any novel, and with his mastery of prose, Hall's sentences and descriptions pour forth as if sung. Nor does "Warlock" operate only on the level of surface story telling, though it can be read as such, but that would be to miss so much. With a deceptively minimalist style, Hall plumbs the depths with a meditation on American archetypes, not simply in terms of characters, but likewise in terms of setting, and offers much food for thought regarding our cultures complicated relationship with violence.
None of which is to say Hall's "Warlock" is an easy read. It most certainly is not. Yet if a reader is willing to put in the time and attention, the reward returned is rich indeed. From the first epic description of the setting as Hall sweeps down onto the town of Warlock, to last perfectly rafted page, you will be glad for the effort.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2008
Warlock is the first in a trilogy by author Oakley Hall, the second novel in the trilogy being Badlands, followed by Apaches. I was simply awed by the writing of Mr Hall, and the universal human truths he reminds the reader of. I can see that more than a few writers must have read Oakley Hall's novels, most especially Cormac Mccarthy. Warlock was published in 1958, and Badlands was at least 10 yrs later, followed by Apaches, which was at least another decade later. Mr Hall also does the fine Ambrose Bierce series of novels, and with a career spanning 5 decades, he is still underated and underapreciated by the general public. do yourself a favor and discover this most excellent writer.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 1999
Every reader of _Little Big Man_ should also read Oakley Hall's masterpiece of Western literature. Like the Berger novel, you don't have to be a fan of the Western genre to enjoy this book. In just under 500 words, Hall manages to establish, embellish, and then utterly demolish every essential cliche' of the Old West.
The movie is a travesty, barely touching upon the vast themes of the novel. I'd love to see this one redone by a more thoughtful director (Sayles? Altman?).
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2006
NYRB remains one of the few companies I will buy books from directly instead of used online- and that's because they put out titles like this. Anyone looking for the core text of shows like Deadwood, Rome, even the Sopranos, need look no further than Oakley Hall's imaginative way with the character driven plot and then, lo and behold, you realize everyone's cribbing from Hall! Ok, of course not point by point, but this book is a masterpiece of interlaced action and rumination, except the rumination slowly goes off course, becomes too self assured, and ultimately reveals said ruminator's short comings when compared with what's happening on the ground and the actual facts of the mattter. And all of this intentionaly done! And done for no other purpose than to please and entertain the reader! Oakley Hall loves you and he loves America! Stick with this book. If it at first it seems too epistolary, have faith, it hardens, it becomes concrete and third person. And yes it is even stupidly moving, in the best tradition of the Americas, and it will make you want to be a better person, while at the same time revealing what a chump you are for even worrying about yourself, when your fellow man stands apart in need.
Special note, I have no idea what Robert Stone's intro really has to do with the book itself or really anything, but it sounds like something a Dog Soldiers character would have come up with so that's kind of neat.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 2006
Like Lonesome Dove and Deadwood, Warlock takes the western genre and refuses all the cliches, creating the possibility of actually understanding history in the terms of men, women, their frailties, and the power of the land. It goes beneath the obvious surfaces, reweaves actual history, and adds a level of writing expertise that makes it an American classic along the lines of what Hawthorne does to the Gothic in The Scarlet Letter. I couldn't put it down. In it, you see the roots of McMurtry's work and Deadwood, and even intersections with John Ford. For those who love the Western, you must read it. For those, like Pynchon, who want to groove on characters, sentences and a fictional world made vivid and compelling, check it out. A wonderful, satisfying and heartbreaking read.