Monday, June 16, 2008

Lonesome Dove (1985)

I first read Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (1985) when I was in junior high, shortly after the mini-series came out. The mini-series was a huge deal -- my family watched it, all my friends watched it, the teachers at school watched it, and everyone was talking about it. Maybe it just seemed more pervasive since I was 13, but I can't think of a recent television "event" that was really talked about the way Lonesome Dove was back in 1989.

And after everyone I knew watched the mini-series, it seemed like everyone I knew went out and read the book. Have you read it? It seriously seems like it must be one of the most-read books of all time, at least among people who were of reading-age in 1989. I loved it then because it was really long, there was some sex in it, and part of it took place in Nebraska. I love it now because it is really long, they say "dern" so much that I started inserting it in all my thoughts, and it takes place in Texas and Nebraska, the two states that I've called home.

In case you don't know, Lonesome Dove is the story of Captain Augustus McCrae and Captain Woodrow F. Call, two former Texas Rangers who run the Hat Creek Cattle Company in South Texas. When their former partner Jake Spoon comes through town on the run from the law, he gives Call the idea of rustling up a bunch of cattle from Mexico and driving them up to Montana -- a practically unsettled frontier compared to the Texas they helped tame as Rangers. The bulk of the book follows the cattle drive from Texas to Montana, and McMurtry is at his best when describing the day-to-day life of the drive. He gives us details of the food, the weather, and the hard and monotonous work broken up by lots of card playing and the occasional unexpected death. Tons of people, both large and small characters, die in this book. Come to think of it, that's another reason I loved it in junior high. I like some tragedy mixed in with my adventure...

Mixed in with the cattle drive are stories of unrequited love in Ogallala, a whore with a heart of gold, a runaway wife, a bumbling deputy, a sheriff unprepared for his duty, and a young man growing up on the cattle drive. McMurtry weaves the stories in and out of each other nicely, changing perspectives and letting the reader into every character's head without losing the central thread of the story or the movement of the drive.

The last 150 pages or so drag a bit at times, particularly after the most entertaining and likable of all the characters meets his end, but overall this book is a really fun read that is worth revisiting.

[And for an archival connection, check out the on-line Lonesome Dove exhibit from the Southwestern Writer's Collection at Texas State University (they also have an in-person exhibit that is pretty cool), as well as their finding aid for the Lonesome Dove Television Mini-series Archive].

1 comment:

Jennifer LaSuprema said...

I love McMurtry's characters! One of my favorite books of all time is his All of My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers. I've never read Lonesome Dove, but I remember the television event quite well. And I once acquired a cremation box from a funeral home for the purpose of housing Gus's prop corpse at Tx State.