Monday, February 07, 2011

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry an American epic

On the way to San Antonio they passed two settlements -- nothing more than a church house and a few little stores, but settlements anyway, and not ten miles apart.

"Now look at that," Augustus said. "The dern people are making towns everywhere. It's our fault, you know."

"It ain't our fault and it ain't our business, either," Call said. "People can do what they want."

"Why, naturally, since we chased out the Indians and hung all the good bandits," Augustus said. "Does it ever occur to you that everything we done was probably a mistake? Just look at it from a nature standpoint. If you've got enough snakes around the place you won't be overrun with rats or varmints. The way I see it, the Indians and the bandits have the same job to do. Leave'em be and you won't constantly be having to ride around these dern settlements."

"You don't have to ride around them," Call said. "What harm do they do?"

"If I'd have wanted civilization I'd have stayed in Tennessee and wrote poetry for a  living," Augustus said. "Me and you done our work too well. We killed off most of the people that made this country interesting to begin with."

Book 16: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

There is a Dickensian quality to Larry McMurtry's elegiac epic of the dying Western frontier.

Dickensian in the vivid minor characters that inhabit this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. From Blue Duck, a bloodthirsty Indian who leaves a trail of death in his path, to Lippy, the piano player in the whorehouse with the leaky stomach; from Po Campo, the trail drive cook who refuses to ride an animal, to all the cowboys and Indians and sporting women, who make this novel such a vivid and interesting stew.

Dickensian, too, in its scope. Lonesome Dove is principally the story of Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call, two former captains in the Texas Rangers, who are now leading a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. But it is also the story of Jake Spoon, who once rode with McCrae and Call, and has now fallen into bad ways. Lorena Wood, a sporting woman who dreams of San Francisco. July Johnson who rides out of Arkansas in search of justice and a runaway wife. 

Lonesome Dove is nearly a thousand pages in length, yet McMurtry might have written a thousand pages more and still had stories to tell. The stories that McMurtry does consign to these pages are captivating; at once romantic and brutally candid. Death rides the trail with the Hat Creek cowboys as does a taste for sweet-young whores and bad whiskey.

The cowboys battle heat and cold, thirst, grasshoppers, snakes and river crossings, while living in fear of Indians who are rarely seen, but whose promise is always lurking beyond the next hill. The cowboys are a naive and sentimental bunch, given to hard work and long silences.

McCrae and Call are like two halves of one man. McCrae is a garrulous old philosopher and it is impossible to read this novel without conjuring an image of Robert Duvall as McCrae in the TV mini-series. Call is as reticent as McCrae is talkative. He's a brooding man, who wanders away from the campfire each night because of his preference for solitude. 

Lonesome Dove is a novel that will long endure. It is a true American epic, defining the West and its passing, celebrating (and sentimentalizing) the men and women who claimed a hard country during a brief interlude as wildness gave way to civilization.

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Lonesome Dove is the first book I've completed that meets the criteria for two challenges issued by other bloggers. The Chunkster Reading Challenge's Mor-book-ly Obese challenge calls for reading eight chunksters, including three books of 750+ pages. At 945 pages (paperback edition), Lonesome Dove easily meets that requirement.

The second challenge, from Roof Beam Reader, is called the 2011 To Be Read Pile Challenge. The idea is to take 12 books that have been on your bookshelf or "to be read" list for more than a year and actually read those books in 2011. One down, 11 books to go.

1. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
2. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
3. War and Peace by Mr. Tolstoy
4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
5. The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker
6. Under the Dome by Stephen King
7. White Noise by Don Delillo
8. Yogi Berra Eternal Yankee by Allen Barra
9. The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
10. Winter in the Blood by James Welch
11. Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson
12. Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson

Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz
Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich

1 comment:

  1. Great site...the best western book ever written and the best western movie ever made. "Lonesome Dove" is the western of westerns...