The Quieting West is a quick-moving novel set against the backdrop of the Wild West. It follows the parallel lives of two cowboys, Thomas and Billy, who find themselves unexpectedly swept up into the world of Hollywood as the more conventional work for cowboys dries up. Forced to move from ranch to ranch in seek of work, Billy and Thomas’ talents for riding are quickly sought out by silent movie directors, eager to exploit the men’s experience to employ them as stunt riders.
Billy is a young, agile orphan, unsure of his exact age and wise beyond his years. With nothing to tie him down to a place or person, he is eager for adventure and is easily attracted by the charms of Hollywood. Thomas is older, and a loose cannon; his violent disposition makes him wild and unpredictable, the archetypal cowboy. The relationship between these two men, strangers at the outset of the novel, provides intrigue throughout the book with their somewhat unlikely alliance.
Through the interwoven lives of these two men, Gravley paints a picture of the Wild West at the turn of the century, and the way in which it is designed and portrayed. The book does begin quite stiffly, with bare facts being laid down in unvarnished prose with little literary flourish employed to pad the edges. However, Gravley soon finds his footing, and the stunted prose soon melts into easy dialogue, which flows effortlessly between the numerous characters. Once up and running, the novel gallops forward at a captivating pace, propelled by fast exchanges of conversation and humorous anecdotes of life on the set of an early Western.
A misstep is the language used throughout the novel is anachronistically modern, and doesn’t evoke the slur of an early twentieth-century cowboy. While this makes the novel incredibly easy to read to a twenty-first century audience, it also widens the disconnect between the worlds inhabited by the reader and the book’s protagonists. The contemporary language simultaneously makes Billy and Thomas’ world more accessible and more distant. The narrative opens a clear window into their world, but as the words do not seem their own, the reader is in some way prevented from getting to know them too closely.
Despite this disconnect, The Quieting West has the flavor of great historical fiction, given the research provided on the era. It weaves fact and fiction together in a way that leaves you wondering which parts really could have happened, and which are pure fantasy, but we’ll never know for sure. Gravely has clearly researched the period well, knitting anecdotal history together to create a compelling novel that feels more like memoir than fiction.
At its core a Hollywood novel, the insights we are given into the world of Hollywood before it became what we know it as today are delightful treats. The novel is peppered with snapshots of the perils, trials and tribulations of working as a stunt double before the invention of crashmats or CGI, and before modern medicine was able to repair the damage when things didn’t go to plan.
All in all, Gravley has created a historical novel which simply, but effectively, transports the reader back to Hollywood at the turn of the twentieth century, except, instead of glamorous movie stars, we find rugged cowboys in their place. It’s a lively and engrossing novel with a compelling blend of Old Hollywood and the Old West.
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