The Violent Land by Wayne D. Overholser

I had thought of this country as the big range, but now, I told myself, I would rename it the violent land. That was it, a violent, savage land. It had changed me since I had come into it.

The Violent Land by Wayne D. OverholserThe Violent Land by Wayne D. Overholser is a classic of western fiction, but it would be a mistake to limit its value to a single genre. Part adventure, part romance, part Bildungsroman, Overholser’s award-winning novel is outstanding in every respect. The plot is tight, the characters are believable and interesting, and the setting is an integral part of the story.

In many ways, The Violent Land reminds me of another great western I read this year, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. While it doesn’t have the same epic quality as McMurtry’s novel, The Violent Land has as as much psychological depth and verisimilitude. It feels real.

From the back cover:

Dan Nathan was a boy forced to manhood by the savagery of the frontier, by the sight of bleached bones around abandoned emigrant wagons, by the sound of sudden gunfire, by the scent of death. He knew there was only one way to stay alive in the rugged wilderness–to match the violence of the land with his own.

He knew it well.

He had to.

He wanted to survive.

What he had yet to learn was the price he would pay for it.

When it comes to western fiction, you can’t get much better than The Violent Land. It won the Spur Award in 1954–Overholser’s second Spur in a row. In fact, Overholser won the inaugural Spur Award in 1953 writing under the name of Lee Leighton, and is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Western Writers of America.

If you want to give westerns a try, The Violent Land would be an excellent place to start, and if you’re already a fan of westerns then it’s a must read.

Since I’m on the subject of westerns, let me remind you to consider participating in my 2018 Wild Wild West Reading Challenge. It begins in just over a month, so there’s plenty of time to get ready for it.

The Violent Land by Wayne D. Overholser
New York: Macmillan, 1954
Print length: 223 pages

Deacon Nick

Nick Senger is a husband, a father of four, and a Catholic school teacher, vice principal and technology coordinator. He taught junior high literature and writing for over 25 years, and has been a Catholic school educator since 1990. In 2001 he was named a Distinguished Teacher of the Year by the National Catholic Education Association.

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