Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs: West of the West

Decades ago, the late singer Marty Robbins recorded an album entitled “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.”   This would be an appropriate sub-title for this book of essays by Fresno-based writer Mark Arax.   In Arax’s world, California is still the wild, wild, west inhabited by gunslingers, drifters, grafters, and others up to little good.   On the positive side, a few of the essays read like articles from old issues of New West magazine.   On the negative, there’s just a bit too much paranoia in this world, which is why most of the material reads like excerpts from the long-departed Ramparts magazine.

“When I strolled into People’s Park and onto the Berkeley campus and found the steps of Sproul Hall there wasn’t one man raging to thousands about throwing his body into the gears of the machine but thousands, en masse, heedless, staring into the iridescence of their cell phones.”   Are we not about 45 years removed from Mario Savio?

For a book that purports to examine the exciting present times and culture of California, this collection was, sadly, too past-directed for this reader’s tastes.

Joseph Arellano

Public Affairs, $26.95, 347 pages

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.Arax West


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