‘Three-Ten To Yuma’ by Elmore Leonard

Three-Ten To Yuma by Elmore Leonard, 1953

The magic trick:

Showing us the interior stress behind the exterior hero

I love Elmore Leonard novels. So good. They’re like beach reads with an actual soul. But I’ve not read his short stories – or any of the Westerns from earlier in his career.

Until now.

I knew this story’s reputation from its successful film adaptations, and turns out it lives up to the hype. It’s just a really, really good story.

It wouldn’t surprise me if he wrote this shortly after watching High Noon. Certainly some similarities there. That’s OK. We don’t come to Westerns for originality.

He does a few really impressive things here, but I’ll just focus on the character he creates in our hero, Scallen. He puts the reader in his mind, so we can experience the inner turmoil he deals with during the story’s 24 hours.

Outwardly, he’s a hero. He does amazing, heroic things. But because we have access to his silent thoughts and feelings, we know he’s struggling. He’s nervous. He’s occasionally faltering in his decision-making process. He just wants this whole episode to be over.

Very quickly, we care about this character, and that caring drives us to keep turning the pages.

And that’s quite a trick on Leonard’s part. 

The selection:

He saw his wife, then, and the three youngsters and he could almost feel the little girl sitting on his lap where she had climbed up to kiss him good-bye, and he had promised to bring her something from Tucson. He didn’t know why they had come to him all of a sudden. And after he had put them out of his mind, since there was no room now, there was an upset feeling inside as if he had swallowed something that would not go down all the way. It made his heart beat a little faster.

Jim Kidd was smiling up at him. “Anybody I know?”

“I didn’t think it showed.”

“Like the sun going down.”

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