It’s 1909 when THE QUIETING WEST opens, a time when open range and cattle drives are long past. But twentyish Billy Colter, an orphan who doesn’t know his actual age, is skilled at riding herd and he’s grown up working on ranches. The novel’s romanticizing of rural life and its nostalgia for cowboy days make it feel pastoral and it does, in fact, concern a shepherd of sorts.
Sixtyish, longtime cowboy Thomas Andrew Benton is a complex man who works hard, but always finds time to write poetry. He’s conflicted, hating the fencing of the West but still able to admire one that is well-mended. He befriends Billy as they fix fences on a Utah ranch where Thomas is foreman. Thomas watches over the ranch’s livestock and its crew, especially Billy, who moves on with him when the ranch is sold.
Thomas expands Billy’s world beyond corrals and bunkhouses with a railroad trip to Denver. While Billy wanders the city and discovers silent film at a vaudeville house, Thomas visits the much younger love of his life, Ellen Marie, a madam who owns a brothel. Ellen Marie is one of Thomas’s lost calves. He has looked out for others throughout his life. When he and Billy eventually arrive in Southern California, his combination of abilities–writing, herding, managing and having experienced the Old West–turn him into another kind of shepherd: a movie director. It’s a fascinating transformation. But as already indicated, Thomas is a flawed shepherd.
THE QUIETING WEST has perplexing holes. Many characters disappear shortly after appearing, including Ellen Marie, who haunts Thomas’s poetry, but never reenters the story after he and Billy flee Denver on horses they brought along on the train. Although the novel doesn’t begin to fully gallop until it’s almost too late, it ultimately takes readers on a colorful ride from the Rockies to the Southwest, ending up with the bathtub gin, corruption and false-front romance of Hollywood.
~Alicia Rudnicki for IndieReader