Book Review: “A Million Ways to Die In the West”

I seriously considered timing my resurrection from the (blogging) dead so that it’d coincide with Easter, drawing apt comparisons between my bunderful self and certain deities. I could envision the headlines perfectly: “The Pooka Rises on Easter Sunday; Saves the World from Reading Ennui!” Then, I read a book that just begged for a review – so I cut my time in the underworld short and rose today instead.

Besides, the best-intentioned mash-ups of Jesus and rabbits don’t always go as planned. Remember that time when a Church in Pennsylvania did a skit, trying to teach children about the Passion of Christ, and they whipped and crucified the Easter Bunny? Yup. Insta-trauma.

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This year, we celebrate the Ten Year Anniversary of that hilarious failure. I remember where I was when I first heard the news: sitting in class at my Catholic school, Holy Name, while my history teacher tried to stop giggling about it for long enough to get the story out. What a wonderful, blasphemous person, that Mr. Meagher. I have never seen such genuine tears of laughter.

Needless to say, funny as it was, I didn’t want a repeat of that disaster.
And I was gone for a lot longer than three days, anyway. More like three days times ten.
But I’m not dead! Hooray! She lives to blog another day!

Speaking of death and shit-shows, we come to the book that caused me to breathe new life into The Pooka Picks: Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West.

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Title: A Million Ways to Die in the West
Author: Seth MacFarlane
Genre: Fiction (Comedy/Western)
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pub Date: March 04, 2014
Hardcover: 211 pages
Is There a Pooka In This Book?: No.
Pooka Rating: 3.99 out of 5 Nibbles

A Million Ways to Die in the West is the story of Albert Stark, perhaps the only rational person living in the Alabama territory of Old Stump in the late 1800’s. When some people look at the West, they see opportunity, adventure, and excitement. When Albert looks around, he sees danger lurking behind every tumbleweed. And not for nothin’, either. Not only are there killer rattlesnakes, cholera (also known as “The Black Shit”), and outlaws in Stark’s neck of the desert, but accidents can happen, too: a giant block of ice is delivered, comes loose of its restraints, crushes you, and smashes your brain to smithereens; a schoolmarm is felled by “tumbleweed abrasion.” Stark plays it safe. When he’s injured or ill, he takes care of himself, preferring his own amateur efforts to the town “doctor’s,” who will sic a bluejay on a wound to “peck it clean” or offer you an “ear nail” – “A nail. In [your] fucking ear” (35) – if you have a cold. When fights break out at the local watering hole, Albert and his best friend Edward rush to the corner and stage faux fights of their own, pretending to knock each other silly while never landing a punch, reasoning that “as long as they appeared to be brawling along with everyone else, neither one of them would make an easy target for genuine violence” (82).

When Albert’s accused of letting his sheep graze on another man’s land, he’s challenged to a duel. Since he’s a poor shot, he publicly weasels his way out of the fight, agreeing to pay $50 in remunerations rather than risk his life. The town (yet again) judges him a coward, and he loses Louise, the love of his life (she’s beautiful and still has all of her teeth!), who decides she’s embarrassed to be seen with him. Not long after, he sees her on the arm of a “real man,” Foy Ellison, the owner of the local moustachery. Consumed with passion and sick of the West’s shit, he challenges Foy to yet another duel, after just maneuvering his way out of the first one! He’s determined to prove his worth to Louise and win her back. Can he do it?

On his own? No. Not a chance. But with the assistance of Anna Barnes, his brand-new-to-town, mysterious friend, the daughter of a gunmaker who’s been firing guns since she could walk? Maybe.

Maybe, just maybe, Albert won’t die an early death in the West after all. And even weirder, maybe he’ll find happiness.

It sounds hilarious, right? But was it? Did I enjoy it?

Okay, picture this: a duel. On one side, Clinch Leatherwood, the baddest of all bad-asses, fastest draw in the West, with a pistol.

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On the other, me: a pooka, the cutest mythical rabbit in all of everywhere, with Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West.

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At the signal, Clinch reaches for the trigger and I flip to the first page of the book. I bet I’d finish reading it before the bullet found its target, right between my eyes. I’d die with the back cover patted firmly shut and a smile on my face.

Yes, I enjoyed it. It was such a quick, easy, witty read! I started while making dinner and finished in bed that same night, my boyfriend snoring beside me. It’s possible that some might complain about the anachronistic language. The characters certainly didn’t talk like people living in the Old West; they had all the verbal tics of modern Millennials, splicing their sentences with the word “like,” and inventing creative new expletives for every soul-sucking situation. But for me, that was part of its charm. If I had to complain about anything (and as a critic, I guess I do), it’d be the poop jokes: people “dying from their own farts” ( 36), and suffering very graphic bouts of diarrhea. But that’s to be expected; it’s a book from the creator of Family Guy, after all. It’s a little silly to expect sophistication and grace.

I liked it a whole lot. I’ll definitely be encouraging others’ to read it. I can’t wait to see the movie (May 2014) – I’m especially looking forward to Sarah Silverman as Ruth, the fresh-faced prostitute who utterly fails at talking dirty, refuses to sleep with her boyfriend, Edward, before they are married because they’re “Christians”, and yet performs blumpkins and ashes cigars on a client’s balls without batting an eye. She’ll be brilliant, I’m sure.

Here’s the wonderful trailer:

Here are the wonderful early posters & character profiles:
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And here’s my rating (also wonderful):
Pooka Rating: 3.99 out of 5 Nibbles.

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About pookapicks

I'm a 20-something gal working in Children's Library Services. My likes include googly eyes, coffee, magical realism, leading Story Hours, and forcing my taste in books down people's throats. I have a pet rabbit named Moxie Crimefighter.
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