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The Good Old Boys: A Hewey Calloway Novel Mass Market Paperback – April 15, 1999
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“The Good Old Boys is probably the closest I have ever come to writing from sheer inspiration. Hewey Calloway and the other characters took hold of the story like a cold-jawed horse grabbing onto the bit, and about all I could do was hang on for the ride.” ―Elmer Kelton
“One of the best of a new breed of Western writers who have driven the genre into new territory.” ―The New York Times
From the Author
"The Good Old Boys is probably the closest I have ever come to writing from sheer inspiration. Hewey Calloway and the other characters took hold of the story like a cold-jawed horse grabbing onto the bit, and about all I could do was hang on for the ride." --Elmer Kelton
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This seems to be the underlying message. Why do some demand control of others? All kinds of people - wives, sheriffs, friends, brothers, sweethearts, etc., etc., want control. Hewey and his resistance to equality, that is, ‘making everyone the same’ drives the drama. Both submitting to people (sister-in-law) and submitting to their ideas (making money) are addressed in a heart-touching manner. Well done!
This work is closer to a character study, revealing Hewey’s opinions. And fascinating opinions they are. If you agree with him, you will rejoice with him. If you value group approval, collective activity, you might not enjoy spending time with Hewey. For example. . .
“Grass was what it raised best, and it ought to be left that way. But this was not a popular time to be expressing such a sentiment. In fashionable circles it was considered nonprogressive, the outmoded defense of the old-line free-range cattlemen like C. C. Tarpley who didn’t want to give up private possession of land that rightfully belonged to all the citizens of Texas.’’
“Anyone who spoke such a sentiment was allying himself with the forces of monopoly and greed, the reformers shouted. He was setting himself against progress and the uplifting of the common man. He was to be shunned by all good Christian soldiers dedicated to God’s work.’’
“ Hewey had already seen many of God’s good common men starve off of the plow and desert the land they had broken out in His name. The dried fields would scour and blow away in the hot west wind, leaving a sore that wouldn’t heal in a hundred years.’’
“You oughtn’t to ever plow it,” he said, unintentionally putting his thoughts into words.
Cotton was caught off balance, his thoughts elsewhere.
“The homestead law … I say it’s wrong to make a man plow out a field to hold his claim. He ought not to rip up land that God has already planted to grass and handed to him as a gift.”
Cotton’s shell seemed to crack a little.
“You better not say that where Mama can hear it.”
“There’s a lot she don’t agree with me about.”
“She says leavin’ good land in grass is slothful, that the Lord wants us to cultivate it and make it blossom like the rose.”
No farming? What? Hewey has his own mind.
One subplot explains Hewey’s confrontation with a corrupt sherif. Now hears sherif is after him, nevertheless. . .
“Wes Wheeler was one he had always put in the good category. He didn’t go around arbitrarily telling people what to do or trying to run their lives with the excuse that it was for their own good. He recognized that his main function was to keep the peace, and he seldom raised much hell in doing it. He never bothered a man unless he was convinced that a little bothering was going to benefit the community.’’ (78)
Hewey knows their are bad authorities. He does not rebel against all authority. He understands the benefits - if used justly!
Wes Wheeler explains -
““Son, I’m a peace officer. It’s my job to enforce the law. I’m not allowed to make the law; that’s for somebody else to do. If I go to makin’ it, I can make it anything I want it to be. First thing you know I’ll use it to help me and my friends. I’ll use it to hurt people I don’t like. If that ever happens, I’m dangerous. That marshal up yonder, he was goin’ beyond his rightful authority. That77 makes him dangerous. You let people like that get away with it, pretty soon they’ll take you over.” (80)
The change from this (old) respectful, dignified use of power, to the (modern) controlling, demeaning misuse of authority, is carefully drawn. Wonderful!
As author explains in the introduction, this work is intended to draw a picture of the transition from the old, rural Texas cowboy life that he knew as a boy, and the appearance of the modern, urban mechanical world.
Hewey believes a man's wealth is measured in friendship, and the emptiness of his saddle bags is a testament to how well he's lived up to that ideal. But, as his sister-in-law keeps trying to inform him, his way of life may only work out for the young - and no one but Hewey himself seems to think the word "young" can apply to him much longer.
One of my favorite novels in any genre, this is a breezy book about happiness, responsibility, kindness... and how those three may or not coexist.
Author Elmer Kelton started writing The Good Old Boys while his father was still able to retell the stories from his former ranching and cowboy days. Those stories inspired Kelton to write The Good Old Boys. He created the character Huey Calloway who epitomizes the wandering happy-go-lucky cowboy who's out looking for the next round-up. Huey owns nothing but his horse, Biscuit, and his saddle. He calls in at his brother Walter's ranch, and as usual the welcome from his sister-in-law Eve is chilly. She thinks Huey ought to be settling down and starting his own spread. Eve goes so far as to try to set him up with the local school teacher. Through an ill-timed accident Walter's leg is broken. Huey feels responsible, so he stays around to work Walter's farming & ranching spread so that the bank can't call in the mortgage in the fall. One of Walter's sons adores Huey and his tales; the other son doesn't have much use for him, as he's come to realize so many of Huey's stories are blown up `bull-oney.' Well, I won't tell you any more of the plot. I will tell you though there's no murder, serious violence or gun battles. The Good Old Boys is the tale of cowboys feeling the cinch being tightened as the wild west Huey & Walter find, has been roped & corralled. Through it all a passel of humor helps them through the trials.
There's a movie version of The Good Old Boys staring Tommy Lee Jones as Huey. You'll enjoy it if you're lucky enough to find a copy on DVD or video. -Robin Moore