In his bold debut story collection, Joseph Scapellato takes aim at the American frontier’s familiar gun-toting, galloping figures and proceeds to blast 25 blistering holes clean through them.
Often amusing, thoughtful and poetic, Big Lonesome is a weird and wildly inventive collection of 25 uniquely imagined short stories focused on the mythologies of the American West and the archetypal nomadic characters who roam the vast, pockmarked, barren landscape.
Divided into three sections (Old West, New West and Post West), with some of the longer stories broken up by explanatory titles into mini episodes, the narratives feature a hotchpotch of eccentric cowboy drifters, gunslingers, wilful farm girls, sheriffs, women of ill repute, and even a cowgirl ‘born of a beef cow,’ all vividly dreamed up from the pungent cookfires of Western folklore.
In the New West section, the emphasis is on the changing physical and cultural landscape of America. The memory of the Old West has ‘worn vague’ as a result of the rise of cities and growth of immigrant populations, but in the Post West segment we find it still survives.
Characters ‘pass like coins’ from place to place, moving through saloons their grandfathers drank in and woods that Native Americans inhabited. On their journey through America, they carry with them stories passed on to them by their forefathers, whose histories and adventures live on from one generation to the next.
Arguably, the Old West and its spurs-and-saddle narratives of cowboys ‘alone or lonesomely together’ provide the most unexpected, colourful moments.
The underlying message, if indeed there is one, may be for us to stop romanticising the past and learn to adapt to the present in order to survive.
Amusing and affecting and utterly unique, Scapellato’s absurd reimagining of the roughed-up, Stetson-wearing cowboy who once inhabited the American West will startle and surprise those accustomed to Western fiction. Big Lonesome is an impressive debut story collection by a canny, poetically talented storyteller.
My review of Big Lonesome by Joseph Scapellato is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.