A sweeping epic that covers about 3,000 miles, a large cast of characters, and 945 pages (!), Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove is a gripping and enjoyable read. Those 945 pages flew by for me! At times, reading Lonesome Dove felt like watching a movie. I actually missed my subway stop one morning because I was so engrossed in reading a particular scene, only looking up and realizing what had happened when my subway moved aboveground. Oops.
The story starts in Lonesome Dove, Texas, where former Texas Rangers Woodrow Call and Gus MsCrae have settled down, digging wells, shoeing horses, and generally living quiet lives. That all changes when an old friend of theirs comes into town, with the idea of driving cattle to the fresh, green pastures of Montana. We follow the outfit as they traverse miles of dangerous territory and try to keep from being killed (or killing each other).
Our protagonists, Call and Gus, are two extremely memorable characters, realistically drawn to include faults and failings. Some readers will probably even become irritated with the two, Gus for his insatiable appetite for talk and Call for his emotional reticence, but I think they perfectly portray a lot of tropes about cowboys in a much more realistic way. Gus is impulsive and brave, and we see how that has its advantages and drawbacks; Call is methodical and stoic, and while that may benefit him in business, it has had severe impacts on his personal life.
The supporting characters were, to me, an even bigger draw than Gus and Call. Our sometime-audience surrogate, the young and eager Newt, is adorable. His wide-eyed awe and fear at the events that occur–like a cattle stampede during a night thunderstorm–allow the reader to feel as though they are right there, along for the ride. And Deets…ah, Deets. While he may now and then hew a little too closely to the Magical Negro trope, he is still such an endearing, positive, capable character, probably my favorite in the book. I also appreciate that McMurty didn’t contribute to the erasure of the contributions of African Americans to westward expansion; it is completely realistic for our outfit to have black Americans working as part of it.
Just a side note: I think George R.R. Martin took lessons from McMurty in breaking readers’ hearts by killing characters with no warning. A few of the deaths shocked me so much I still have a hard time believing they happened, and one of them in particular will haunt me for a while. (It has to do with snakes…big, writhing snakes…)
Anyway! I enjoyed Lonesome Dove so much that next up is to watch the TV miniseries (potentially with my mom, who is a huge fan)! Or maybe to tackle one of the many sequels or prequels. I’m glad McMurtry chose to play around a bit in the excellent sandbox he built in Lonesome Dove.
Bookwanderer Rating: Four stars
Bookwanderer Tagline: “‘Don’t be trying to give back pain for pain,’ he said. ‘You can’t get even measures in business like this.'”