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Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Lonesome Dove (original 1985; edition 1990)

by Larry McMurtry

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4,759123982 (4.57)432
Title:Lonesome Dove
Authors:Larry McMurtry
Info:Pan Books (1990), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 960 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fiction, TBR, Western

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Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (1985)


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It's been at least 10 years since I read it, so I can't review it properly. I can say that I still remember parts of it quite clearly & the characterization was excellent. It seemed to me to represent the real Old West much better than most westerns. I'm not an expert, but I did spend some time on a ranch working with cattle & grew up with both horses & cattle. The writing & plot are both simple, gritty & so realistic that almost everything McMurtry writes makes sense at a visceral level. There is one exception but it is a myth that so many people believe & it was so horrific & well done that I have no problem with it. I speak, of course, about the snake scene.

( )
  jimmaclachlan | Aug 18, 2014 |
Fifth reread of summer ( )
  abbeyhar | Jul 23, 2014 |
Fifth reread of summer ( )
  abbeyhar | Jul 23, 2014 |
I sometimes have a habit of reading “appropriate” books while travelling, i.e. reading The Beach while I was in Thailand and reading The Motorcycle Diaries and Long Way Round while I was on a motorbike trip. In April, May and June of this year, as I travelled from my summer in Perth to my new life in London, I had it all mapped out. The bulk of it was a motorcycle roadtrip with my father between Los Angeles and New York, and I was unsure how much reading I’d actually get done, so I aimed high. I planned to read something Victorian while returning to Melbourne for a week to visit friends (check – The Broken Shore), something American and wildernessy while we were camping out in the West – that would be the book I’m reviewing now, the western epic Lonesome Dove – maybe read Willa Cather’s Death Comes To The Archbishop by the time we got to New Mexico, start on Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi when we reached the South, Jonathon Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn for the two weeks in New York and maybe Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites for my four-day stopover in Iceland between New York and London.

So much for all that. I started Lonesome Dove in late April in Los Angeles, while I was buying and prepping a pair of motorcycles, and finished it about seven weeks later in June on the flight out of JFK. In my defence it’s a 900-page brick of a novel, but obviously I overestimated how much reading I’d get done amidst the hurly-burly of travel, and also I’m an enormous dork for mapping out my location-specific reading list in the first place.

Anyway. Lonesome Dove is a well-regarded Western, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for 1985, and was apparently adapted into a very successful TV miniseries – I actually spoiled the fate of a major character while at a newsagency at JFK, leafing through a magazine featuring a retrospective of the miniseries. It follows a group of former Texas Rangers turned horse traders, the Hat Creek livery outfit, living in the tiny town of Lonesome Dove at the edge of the Rio Grande. When a former member of their outfit returns after ten years of wandering with tales of the beautiful, empty grasslands of Montana, just waiting for settlers to come and claim them, the outfit decides to take one last ride, driving a herd of cattle all the way across the plains to Montana.

Lonesome Dove encompasses all of the Western tropes you could ever want: cowboys, cattle drives, outlaws, horse thieves, hangings, whores, Indians, lonely little prairie towns, gambling, whiskey, saloons, sheriffs, deputies, Texas Rangers, Mexican border raids, preachers, riverboats, buffalo hunters, and a bunch of other stuff I’m forgetting. And because it won the Pulitzer, I was expecting a tone similar to Cormac McCarthy, but Lonesome Dove is surprisingly a much lighter novel than anything like Blood Meridian – in fact, it’s often quite funny. The two main characters are the kind of best friends who’ve been together so long they’re almost like an old married couple, bickering and arguing and making witty comments, and there are some great moments throughout. This, for example, when former comrade Jake Spoon returns to the Hat Creek outfit, on the run from the law in Arkansas because he accidentally killed a dentist:

“Everybody in town liked that dentist.”

“Aw, Jake, that won’t stick,” Augustus said. “Nobody really likes dentists.”

“This one was the mayor,” Jake said.

It reminded me a lot of True Grit (I’ve seen the modern film, but haven’t read the book) and I was surprised to find that True Grit was not also a McMurtry novel – it was written by Charles Portis. But that’s the story I’d compare it to most: mostly fun and amusing, but with some serious moments of sadness. Because about a third of the way into Lonesome Dove the story suddenly becomes quite dark – some awful things happen, and we realise that the West isn’t all riding horses with your buddies and cracking jokes and appreciating the landscape.
And that doesn’t let up; there are some scenes towards the end of the novel that are truly heart-wrenching. But McMurtry’s tone remains the same throughout, switching from humour to sadness without any particular change in the authorial voice: a sort of hardened-yet-optimistic, seen-it-all-before old man of the West; fatalistic, but not in a depressing way. It’s an effective tone, especially when dealing with death – the deaths of many major characters simply occur, often for stupid or coincidental reasons, and the other characters and the reader just have to move on from it. It’s a good reflection of what life is really like: nobody is safe, least of all in the Old West. And despite having a fairly simple writing style, heavily focused on dialogue, McMurtry also creates some beautiful, almost cinematic images, such as when the Hat Creek outfit emerges from a terrifying night stealing cattle in Mexico to arrive at the Rio Grande at sunrise. I was going to quote that passage here, but it simply doesn’t work out of context, because it’s not so much McMurtry’s prose; it’s the story, the whole dark and ominous chapters of dangerous stealth and sudden action that precede it, capped off with the relief of daylight at the American border.

This tone perhaps has its flaws. The novel ends rather abruptly, and just as easily could have ended a hundred pages earlier or a hundred pages later – or a thousand pages later. Lonesome Dove feels less like a strictly structured novel than a 900-page peek into a chapter of a much longer saga. And indeed, there are apparently three other books in the series – a sequel and two prequels. (By the way, don’t read McMurtry’s 2010 introduction included in some versions, because he spoils a major plot point in the sequel, much as Stephen King ruined the ending of The Running Man in the introduction to all of his Bachman books. I don’t understand these people.)

Lonesome Dove was one of those novels I enjoyed quite a bit while I was reading it, but never felt hugely pressed to read when I wasn’t. Hugely enjoyable, but not gripping, yet nonetheless a novel I’m very pleased I read. It’s a great story, and I’ll probably read the others in the series eventually. I am a little surprised that it won the Pulitzer, since it would be (fairly) described as a book you might buy your dad for Father’s Day, but maybe the committee was a bit less snobbish back then. ( )
1 vote edgeworth | Jun 21, 2014 |
A larger-than-life story of two (retired) Texas Rangers, Call and Gus, who turn to "cowboying" and drive a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana. Along the way they encounter dust storms, torrential rains, hailstorms, indians (good and bad), eccentric settlers, and more. The cowboys themselves are a colorful group of jaded veterans and fresh-eyed novices. McMurtry won a Pulitzer for this book and it's easy to see why: he's descriptive, dialogue is among the best I've ever read, and he's not sentimental or cloying. His characters border on stereotypes (the whore with a heart of gold, the wizened Mexican cook e.g) but he has an eye for detail and the natural contradictions within human nature. The real crux of the story is the friendship between Call and Gus; the rest is just a "buddy movie" on horseback. ( )
  mjspear | Apr 28, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 124 (next | show all)
All of Mr. McMurtry's antimythic groundwork -his refusal to glorify the West - works to reinforce the strength of the traditionally mythic parts of ''Lonesome Dove,'' by making it far more credible than the old familiar horse operas. These are real people, and they are still larger than life. The aspects of cowboying that we have found stirring for so long are, inevitably, the aspects that are stirring when given full-dress treatment by a first-rate novelist. Toward the end, through a complicated series of plot twists, Mr. McMurtry tries to show how pathetically inadequate the frontier ethos is when confronted with any facet of life but the frontier; but by that time the reader's emotional response is it does not matter - these men drove cattle to Montana!

added by Stir | editNew York Times, Necholas Lemann (Jun 9, 1985)
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All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream. T.K. Whipple, Study Out the Land
For Maureen Orth,
In memory of
the nine McMurtry boys
"Once in the saddle they
Used to go dashing . . ."
First words
When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake—not a very big one.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 067168390X, Mass Market Paperback)

Larry McMurtry, in books like The Last Picture Show, has depicted the modern degeneration of the myth of the American West. The subject of Lonesome Dove, cowboys herding cattle on a great trail-drive, seems like the very stuff of that cliched myth, but McMurtry bravely tackles the task of creating meaningful literature out of it. At first the novel seems the kind of anti-mythic, anti-heroic story one might expect: the main protagonists are a drunken and inarticulate pair of former Texas Rangers turned horse rustlers. Yet when the trail begins, the story picks up an energy and a drive that makes heroes of these men. Their mission may be historically insignificant, or pointless--McMurtry is smart enough to address both possibilities--but there is an undoubted valor in their lives. The result is a historically aware, intelligent, romantic novel of the mythic west that won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:21:54 -0400)

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Presents a love story and an epic of the frontier, richly authentic that makes readers laugh, weep, dream and remember

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