Billy the Kid Week 2011: Review of Anything for Billy by Larry McMurtry
Day 3, Hump Day, of Billy the Kid Week. I am celebrating the 130th anniversary of Billy the Kid’s death this week by reading a bunch of books about the famous outlaw.
Today’s book is Anything for Billy by Larry McMurtry.
I’ve actually read this book before. I even wrote an article for one of my Weekly Geeks entries back in 2009 about historical fiction and I mentioned reading this book. After seeing Young Guns in the theater back in 1988, I became obsessed with Billy the Kid and the Old West. I read tons of books, fiction and non-fiction, about that time period. I discovered this book in the early ’90s during a vacation with my family. The back mentioned it was about Billy the Kid, so I read it. And I really enjoyed it. When I wrote that 2009 article mentioning this book, I got the bug to read it again. So I grabbed a copy off Paperbackswap.com and read it again just a month or so ago.
And the book is still good. It is most definitely not a shoot ‘em up western. It is more a character study of the western gunslinger. The book is written as the journal of “Sippy”, an author from the East Coast who packs up and moves West when he becomes disillusioned with his life. He meets up with Billy Bone and Joe Lovelady and tags along with them on several adventures. They meet several rough and tumble characters and travel to tiny western towns in the middle of nowhere. It’s a steady, methodically paced journey. The book is Sippy’s remembrance of his time with Billy. Sippy even mentions other characters in the book that have gone on and written their own Billy books years after the events in this book and “misremembered” all the events to make themselves look better. It’s a nice commentary on legends and fame. And that may be the most interesting thing about this book. It’s a deconstruction of myths and legends and how we perceive and create these legends. Also maybe the juxtaposition of the reality of a legend against what people believe about the legend. Very interesting stuff when you think about it.
McMurtry chooses an interesting portrayal of Billy. He’s a terrible shot with a pistol or rifle (which is historically inaccurate). McMurtry describes him as ugly (also not historically accurate). And this book’s Billy is also extremely immature and a slave to his own impulses (probably very historically accurate). However, it’s obvious McMurtry was looking to create his own version of Billy the Kid because while he uses a few historical places in Billy’s life, the characters and events are mostly fiction.
So, did I enjoy it again this second time? I did. It’s a fun lazy Sunday western. And I like how it’s written, with the main character Sippy remembering the events of so long ago and how he can mention what happens to some of the characters many years later. I did enjoy it and I can recommend it to fans of Billy the Kid or western outlaws. Or anyone that loves a good western. But, go in realizing this isn’t a “shoot em up”, it’s more about the characters than the action.