Lonesome Dove

by Larry McMurtry

Hardcover, 1985

Collection

Description

Chronicles a cattle drive in the nineteenth century from Texas to Montana, and follows the lives of Gus and Call, the cowboys heading the drive, Gus's woman, Lorena, and Blue Duck, a sinister Indian renegade.

Rating

(1804 ratings; 4.6)

Media reviews

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!

User reviews

LibraryThing member lkernagh
What can I say about this American tale, and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, that hasn't already been said by others, beyond the fact that I have only just now discovered that this is the 1st book published - and the 3rd book (chronologically)... Seriously, the third book??? - in McMurtry's Lonesome Dove series and that I am happy to have finally found the time to read it.

Written in epic proportions, McMurtry nailed his characters. They are complex, larger than life characters that seen to just walk off the pages with a realism that makes me love and hate them at the same time. No one is a saint and no one is 100% evil. They face dilemmas, engage in conversations that give one pause for thought and have the all too human characteristic of judging people and situations based on limited facts/biases.

McMurtry also nailed the scenery. I have never made a 3,000 mile journey from Texas to Montana but I have traveled numerous times across Canada's equally vast prairies.... granted it was in a car and not as part of a cattle drive, but the feeling of big sky and seemingly unending tracts of unpopulated land is something that needs to be experienced to really put life into perspective. McMurtry captures that experience in this book with his sweeping descriptions of the environment, the conditions of life in Lonesome Dove and the changing and mostly unpopulated landscape the cattle drive moves through as it heads north.

I found the plot to be a bit thin in places but was willing to sacrifice that for the richly drawn characters. Even so, McMurtry manages to provide interesting connections between events to keep the story moving forward and to keep his different story tangents from becoming dropped threads. The plot moves with the slowness of the cattle drive, but it is a pace that I was able to settle into and I found myself enjoying the unrushed nature of the story.

Overall, this story has something for everyone: the cowboy of old, strong female characters, an epic journey with extreme weather conditions, Indians, soldiers, settlers, moments of reflective thought and, yes even some unrequited love. Its a long one, there is no denying that, but it is a story that carries you along and then suddenly drops the reader unapologetically with the last page, leaving me wondering how I could possibly be at the end of the story.

If you feel as though you have missed out in experiencing first hand the American West in its untapped, unrestrained beauty by being born in the wrong century, pick up McMurtry's book and experience it for the epic journey that it is.

I will say this though, the trade paperback grew tiresome to hold up as I was finishing this one so if you have an e-reader, I would recommend downloading an e-copy to read... or work on strengthening your wrists first!
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LibraryThing member jnwelch
“It's a fine world, though rich in hardships at times.”

Lonesome Dove is a bedraggled little town in southern Texas near the Rio Grande. Call and Gus are retired captains from the Texas Rangers, who capably fought Mexicans and Indians for twenty years. Now they've got a small ranch that Call runs with Gus's lackadaisical help, supported by a group of men who wait for directions. Gus likes to play cards in the local saloon and frolic with Lorena, a young girl whose life has led her to "sporting" (prostitution). Her natural beauty deeply affects several of the main characters. It's the 1870s, and Call gets smitten with the idea of driving cattle all the way to the undeveloped country of Montana, where majestic land can be claimed and make you rich.

A major strength of this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel lies in its realism. We get to know a host of believable characters well, and the harsh day to day realities of life, on the drive and in the towns and ranches along the way, are much more powerful than any mythic treatment of America's west. It's a fine world, though rich in hardships. The unexpected must be expected, and when it flares up, it's pulse-pounding for the reader, including gunfights, gun-less fights, hangings, life-threatening escapes, horse theft, grizzlies, a river boiling with snakes, and other potential disasters. There are matters of honor, and characters with no moral limitations whatsoever. The implacable and nightmarish Indian Blue Duck glories in the havoc he creates, and challenges taciturn Call and always-talking Gus in sometimes devastating ways. The land they travel is gorgeous but dangerous, and Montana a prize worth attaining.

Larger issues are a constant backdrop to the vivid life of surviving and taking care of business.

"The sun spread reddish-gold light through the shining bushes, among which a few goats wandered, bleating. Even when the sun rose above the low bluffs to the south, a layer of light lingered for a bit at the level of the chaparral, as if independent of its source. Then the sun lifted clear, like an immense coin. The dew quickly died, and the light that filled the bushes like red dirt dispersed, leaving clear, slightly bluish air.
It was good reading light by then, so Augustus applied himself for a few minutes to the Prophets. He was not overly religious, but he did consider himself a fair prophet and liked to study the styles of his predecessors. They were mostly too long-winded, in his view, and he made no effort to read them verse for verse—he just had a look here and there, while the biscuits were browning.”

The men struggle with their yearning for women, and for many of them, with their clueless inability to understand or talk naturally with them. Gus has been married twice, and entrances Lorena and others with his confident loquaciousness. But he yearns for the brainy and bold Clara, the one who got away, who saw early on that two alphas would make for a bad marriage. Call had one serious relationship that conflicted with his drive to lead men, and he's leery of marriage. “I don't see how being married could be any worse than listening to you talk for twenty years, but that still ain't much of a recommendation for it.” That relationship he had nonetheless has far-reaching consequences.

I'm sure everyone who reads this book has his or her favorite characters. I got a big kick out of Clara, who sees through Gus's spieling to a good man and lifelong friend, and who detests the uncomprehending Call for what others view as heroic. She tells Call, “And I’ll tell you another thing: I’m sorry you and Gus McCrea ever met. All you two did was ruin one another, not to mention those close to you.” But they're heroes. Can she possibly be right?

McMurtry is the son and grandson of cattlemen, and the book reportedly is based on the lives of two cattlemen who created the Goodnight-Loving Trail in the 1860s. Lonesome Dove's realism is compelling, and this is a five star read.
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LibraryThing member GingerbreadMan
McGrae and Call are retired Texas Rangers, now owning a small cattle outfit in Lonesome Dove, close to the Mexican border. Cattle is stolen back and forth across Rio Grande, but otherwise life is slow. The duo has a strange dynamic. McGrae is full of talk, laziness and mischief, loves booze and women and has a hard time taking things seriously. Call, on the other hand, is all about work and duty – a man completely void of humour and imagination. It’s safe to say they get on each other’s nerves, and the quiet life together isn’t really suiting any of them. So when their old partner Jake Spoon suddenly returns, due to a misunderstanding with the law in Arkansas, and tells of the magnificent pastures in untouched Montana, it’s more boredom than the wish to get rich that causes Call to start planning for driving a herd of cattle up there. Before anyone really understands how, the drive is a reality, and it’s a journey that will change a lot of lives forever. Not least that of Lorena, the only prostitute in Lonesome Dove, a life-weary young girl who is swept away by Jake Spoon’s light promises to take her to the coast. But who instead finds both horror, loyalty and perhaps even love.

The blurb on the back of this book calls it an account of “the west as it truly was”. I have my doubts. There are a few too many tropes here – beautiful whores, a freaky piano player, a Mexican cook, star eyed youngsters, stoic Indians, über evil outlaws and manly banter between clenched teeth. But as a tall tale which still feels genuine, grounded and authentic, it doesn’t get better than this.

McMurtry juggles a large cast of wonderfully flawed characters, shifting perspectives effortlessly. You come to know and care for them all, even when they are bastards – and there are truly some bastards in here. It came close to annoy me at times that virtually all females in this book are relying on men, depending on looks and sexuality to get by. But McMurtry goes beyond the hooker and victim clichés and finds people, and the female characters – Lorena, Clara, Janey, Elmira – are among the most memorable of the bunch.

Forget about any aversion you might feel about the western as a genre. Oh sure, this long drive all across the young nation is an adventure, of course. There’s tons of bad weather, gunfights, indian conflict (, grizzly bears and rattle snakes. But the real suspense and excitement here are in the small dramas of real people: love, secrets, betrayal, guilt, prejudice, longing and heart-break. Expect nailbiting tension, tears and sleepless nights. Don’t miss this epic for anything.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
Lonesome Dove, as I think almost everyone before me must have mentioned, completely transcends the cowboys and Indians genre with a story of epic proportions and a cast of characters so well drawn that they were not only believable but entirely memorable too. Augustus McCrae and Woodrow F. Call are two old friends and partners who've survived their years as Texas rangers and now lead a settled life. When an old acquaintance tells them all about the wonders to be found in the north, they decide to leave the comfort of their Texas ranch—baptized the Hat Creek Cattle Emporium and Livery Stable by Gus, the only lettered man in the bunch who also likes to talk a lot and very loudly—to make their way with a herd of some two thousand heads of cattle to Montana, to be the first settlers there. While their journey may be a long one, and the book is well over 800 pages, there isn't a dull moment, as the country is still peopled with warrior Indians and plenty of natural dangers to keep the action going. There is a complex relationship between the two old rangers, with Gus having opinions about everything and unable to ever keep quiet about them, and "Captain" Call, whom all the men look to for direction preferring to say as little as possible and keep to himself. Gus has kept the company of whores the better part of a life almost entirely devoted to being with and thinking of women, while Call has aimed to keep to his own strict code of behaviour, though Gus knows all too well the man has had moments of weakness leading to very real consequences in the form of what is now a young man, which Call can't accept as being his son. The one thing fuelling Gus's desire for travel and adventure is the promise of reconnecting with an old and never forgotten flame, while Call seemingly has a very simple need to stay in control of events and lead his men along on their northbound journey. There's a rabble of cowhands and various misfits traveling along, each one being significant to the group, but also taking on importance in this wide canvas set in post-Civil War America. This is a grand and tragic adventure that one shouldn't miss, and if you're anything like me, these characters will live on in your mind, and you may just start talking and thinking with a Texas accent, no matter where you happen to be from. There's no question this is one of my favourite books of the year, and maybe of all time.… (more)
LibraryThing member Crazymamie
"If you only come face-to-face with your own mistakes once or twice in your life it's bound to be extra painful. I face mine every day - that way they ain't usually much worse than a dry shave."

So all y'all were right. This book is so much more than a western - it is also a western would be a more apt description. And I was not expecting to love it despite all the glowing praise that it accrued at just being mentioned on my thread. I think what really shines here is the humor that resides even in the darker passages. This was such a fabulous surprise to me. And the well crafted characters who are deeply flawed but also deeply lovable. And the ones that you want to love but just can't because they keep letting you down - we have all known people like that. Life is full of them.

Perhaps the greatest achievement here is that the book does not feel like it is over 800 pages - you just open the cover and fall right in. I never had to make myself pick it up, and I found myself sneaking moments with it for just one more chapter. And then just one more after that. I also loved that, for me, it was not predictable. Just when I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen, it went another direction. I loved how the characters wove into and out of each others' lives. And how the plot got twisty only to straighten itself out again before it began once more twisting in on itself. Beautiful.

My favorite character? Deets, hands down, and I wanted to know more about him. After that, I don't know how you could possibly fail to love Gus, who gets all the best lines and who never fails to stand tall when he needs to, but is just as quick to sit back down again. His introspection on a life lived taming the West only to find that it came at perhaps too high a cost is worth the price of admission alone, but there is so much more here. Heartbreak and belly laughs, passages begging to be read aloud and bittersweet irony that will have you holding your breath, characters that will stay with you long after closing the covers of the book...it's all here. Just waiting. Oh so highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member VisibleGhost
When I was young I could disappear into books at will. The real world would fade and I would be immersed into book world. As I've aged that doesn't happen often. I disappeared into Lonesome Dove. Sharing that world with the wonderful flawed characters that McMurtry created was an enjoyable respite from the world of work, bills, annoying people, and the pettiness of life.

Lonesome Dove follows two main characters, Gus and Call, from Lonesome Dove, Texas to Montana. They are former Texas Rangers whose rangering days are over. Neither are comfortable with that. Their world has changed and they aren't fitting well into the new one. The solution? Drive a herd of cattle from south Texas to Montana to be the first to do so. Call fixates on the idea and Gus gripes about the endeavor daily. Neither are cattlemen, nor do either of them particularly want to be, so it's not a labor of love or an ambition to fulfill a dream. It's something to do because rangering has gone away.

Along with Call and Gus are dozens of other characters with their own interesting back stories and goals. Call girls, cowboys, gamblers, loafers, drifters, and outlaws. There is an understated sense of humor throughout and many instances of man/woman problems. It's an epic even though the main time period covered is less than a year. There are flashbacks and recollections that extend the time frame to fill in blanks but it's still compressed into a months long adventure. It was a fantastic book to disappear into for a week.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Lonesome Dove screams epic. The trade paperback is 858 pages long; the story features dozens of perspectives, and tells of a cattle drive around 1877 by twenty people of 2,6000 head over 3,000 miles from the Texas borderland to Northern Montana. This is a very celebrated book. It didn't just win the Pulitzer Prize, but is a popular favorite. Whether you look on Amazon or GoodReads or LibraryThing you'll see an overwhelming number of top ratings and fierce defenders commenting on the sparse negative reviews. I was reading through a Western recommendation list and left this one to the end precisely because I heard it is the epitome of the genre, and Sharon Penman, my favorite historical fiction writer, rated it five stars.

This is definitely not Louis L'Amour--nor is it Cormac McCarthy--it's neither pulp nor eccentric. I didn't adore the way McMurty whipped through different points of views. It made the narrative feel rather disjointed to me although I did eventually get used to the rhythm and feel. On the other hand, from the beginning I felt the author painted the setting and its people vividly. I felt the white heat of the Texas landscape, filled with rattlers, centipedes and black widow spiders. McMurty has a cast of dozens of distinctive characters, but I think the standouts are the two partners in charge of the Hat Creek Outfit that make the drive, the two ex-Texas Rangers Gus McCrae and Captain Woodrow Call. Gus is the gabby, funny, exuberant extrovert, Call the quiet introvert who feels the weight of leading the others.

About the first 228 pages are taken up with introducing the various characters who'll come along to the drive--which only starts in Part 2, 26 chapters in. I only really got hooked about 300 pages into the novel. And women characters? For that entire first part, there's only one really--Lorena Woods, the town prostitute with a heart that initially seemed made of stainless steal. Well into the second part it seemed just about every woman we met was a prostitute, a shrew, or both. Part Two brought a lawman into the mix, July Johnson. And when it also added a scary comanchero, Blue Duck, the pace certainly quickened. I liked Janey once she showed up--and then we hit Part III, and meet Clara, and by then I'm no longer feeling disgruntled with McMurty's women. My liking of the book crept up on me--maybe I can blame a sort of Stockholm Syndrome after taking over a week to read this, but I did come to love many of the characters, especially Gus who provided so much of the lightness and humor in what is so often a violent and dark tale. So a book that after 100 pages I thought I probably wouldn't finish, by the end despite flaws that included a fairly abrupt ending, wound up a favorite.
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LibraryThing member piemouth
A magnificent novel by a great storyteller. Gus McCray and W. F. Call once were Texas Rangers together but they've run a livery stable in Lonesome Dove, on the Rio Grande, for years. They get a visit from an old Ranger buddy, Jake Spoon, and his tales of ranch lands in the north make them decide to assemble a herd of cattle, drive it North, and settle there as ranchers. They bring along various cowboys, a young boy who's lived with them on the ranch, a couple of townsmen who want to get out, and impulsively Gus invites the town's whore. Of course, everyone has history with each other, which makes this story more than just an account of taking some cattle to Montana. The story widens to include people whose paths cross the Lonesome Dove crew.

It's the 1880s, the end of an era, and Call and McCray know it. As they drive North they can't believe all the little towns and settlers. Was this what they did all their Rangering for? Without belaboring it, you see what incredibly hard work these men do. They've got the clothes on their backs and a bedroll. They drive the cattle all day, sometimes all night when there's a hailstorm or a sandstorm. They cross rivers and hope they won't encounter water snakes or get thrown from their horse. At night they eat beans and whatever the cook can come up with, and sleep on the ground. You also see what big spaces the West contains, and how empty most of it was.

You also find out all the different ways people end up in the West. Most of them didn't plan to go there, they just ended up there. A lot of them are Civil War veterans but nobody seems to care about that any more. You also get a sense of how many people of these people were misfits, or damaged, or just plain psychotic. You had to be tough to survive, even in a town, and you had to be hard to make it. Some hard men survive at the expense of others, and it's soon pretty clear why horse theft is still a hanging offense. You steal a man's horses in country where water is 80 miles away, you've as good as killed him. (Now I'm talking like a character in the book.)

I couldn't sleep thinking about everything in this book. It will stay with me for a long time.

I wasn't expecting to like it. I'd had it for years and challenged myself: "You want to keep it? Okay, then why don't you read it NOW?" I think I assumed a western would be dull accounts of hard to follow action with horses, and fighting. It wasn't like that. I'd put it in the category of books I feel a little guilty about because they're so easy and enjoyable to read, stories about people. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the poster child for that type of book.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
“’It’s a fine world, though rich in hardships at times,’ Augusts said.” (Ch 96)

Famed, retired Texas Rangers, Augustus McRae and Woodrow Call, are proprietors of the Hat Creek Cattle Company in Lonesome Dove, Texas. The Rangers, who could not be more different, enjoy a quirky friendship come solid partnership. Gus, warm, personable, and understanding, is the perfect antidote to Call’s military-like precision, aloneness, and apparent indifference. When Call decides that the Hat Creek outfit’s destiny is in Montana, he, Gus, and their hands work to gather a herd of 3,000. Conveniently, Lonesome Dove is located very near the Mexican border. Gus dryly observes, “It’s a funny life. All these cattle and nine-tenths of the horses is stolen, and yet we was once respected lawmen.” (Ch 24) So begins a legendary cattle drive beset by “snakes, wild pigs, Indians, bandits, bears or other threats” (Ch 38) through the American frontier.

Certainly Lonesome Dove is enough cowpoke adventure to satisfy those yearning for a froniter read. But McMurty masters more than the frontier novel here. An abundant cast of perfectly flawed, unforgettable characters and a crackerjack plot result in much more: love story, coming of age, longing, regret, prejudice, and betrayal. Superb characterization and an omniscient point of view allow readers a look at the human, relatable flaws of those who, as in real life, are most always much more than they initially appear. Woodrow Call, for all of his detached remoteness, acknowledges the painful experience of past love:

“Better by far never to have known the pleasure than to have the pain that followed. Maggie had been a weak woman, and yet her weakness had all but slaughtered his strength. Sometimes just the thought of her made him feel that he shouldn’t pretend to lead men anymore.” (Ch 46)

An absolutely epic read, Lonesome Dove is not to be missed!
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LibraryThing member katiekrug
Some people think that for a book to be "worthy" it has to have a complex narrative, plumb the depths of the universe, ponder existential questions of meaning and purpose, etc. etc. etc. That's all fine and good and occasionally important, but at the end of the day, I want a good story. There is more to Lonesome Dove than just a good story, but if one were to read it only for that, the experience would still be well worth it.

I know I am in good hands when a wide cast of characters is introduced fairly quickly but I have no problem keeping them straight in my head; that tells me that the author has developed a distinct personality for each and conveyed it deftly. From cowboys and lawmen to prostitutes and outlaws, McMurtry gives us the whole panorama of the American western experience in the post-Civil War era. But this is not simply The Good versus The Bad because these characters are complex and don't always act or respond as expected.

McMurtry unfolds his story in parallel narratives, weaving the threads in and out of one another as characters meet and circumstances collide. At times funny and solemn, sweet and brutal, the story of these men and women exploring and opening and holding fast to the frontier is quintessentially American - a combination of courage, foolishness, hope, ambition, disappointment, and arrogance.

If you haven't read it, you should - even if you don't like westerns. It's so much more than that.
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LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
I know I'm supposed to love this book. It's an epic, like The Odysse or Moby Dick, but with cows! If you listen carefully you can hear the orchestra on a crescendo as the sun rises over the dusty plains! It won the Pulitzer Prize!

I just can't get on board with this one. I read all 945 pages and it was a slog in ill-fitting hip waders through waste-deep mud all the way through.

First problem - it stretches my credulity that everyone from Fort Smith, Arkansas through Texas, Northern Mexico, Nebraska, and on into Montana knows each other and run into each other on a regular basis. I don't know why, but this made me bang my head on the table. I've done three cross-country moves in my adult life and I am here to tell you that this is a great big country. The notion that you would wander randomly through Texas and meet up with people MULTIPLE TIMES is just a bit much.

Second problem - I think Larry McMurtry isn't terribly fond of women. Every single female character in this book has a Texas Instruments scientific calculator where their heart should be. I will grant that a certain amount of pragmatism is healthy, but not everyone has it and there's something hostile about the way the it's written here that I just couldn't love.

Third problem - Deets is a classic example of what Spike Lee and others refer to as the "magical Negro." He might as well well be Little Black Sambo because he sure isn't a person. He exists purely as a plot device, is impossibly good, and uses his magical tracking and scouting powers to move the white men forward.

I wanted to like this. I know I'm supposed to, especially since the whole rest of the planet seems to, but I just couldn't get there. Oh well.
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LibraryThing member cissa
I am astonished that this won a Pulitzer. The plotting is sloppy, the author forgets and contradicts himself on various plot points, the POV is sloppy third-person-omniscient, and the author is a firm advocate of "tell-don't-show" which is generally the opposite of what is recommended for compelling writing. And it doesn't end; it just sort of stops. It read like a first draft.

NOT recommended.
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LibraryThing member jodeocean
Epic novel depicting the harsh life lived by creative characters in and around the Hat Creek Cattle Company - Gus, Captain Call, Dewt, Pea Eye, Lorena, Clara. The tale weaves a story around the trek from Lonesome Dove, Texas to the unknown territory of Montana - the camaraderie that develops between the characters and the unexpected surprises so deftly told.

I enjoyed this story, as it gave me a view into the lives of a different time and a different world. Augustus McCrae becomes my unexpected hero as his kind heart mixes with extraordinary bravery to have endeared himself not only to the other characters, but the reader as well.
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LibraryThing member bell7
Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call, former Texas Rangers, are running a livery stable with some young men in Lonesome Dove. When one of their old friends, Jake Spoon, comes back on the run having accidentally killed a man, he tells them tales of Montana and Call decides to make a cattle drive up north.

This epic saga of the Old West has a little bit of everything: good guys, bad guys, dumb guys just going a long for the ride; cowboys and Indians; cattle drives; whorehouses. There's a little bit of history and the mentality of the Texas Rangers. Various characters are introduced and intertwine throughout the 800+ pages. The writing is evocative and reading about the hot Texas summer in the middle of a heat wave, I could just feel the dust and the heat coming off the pages. I can understand why this Western is one of the best beloved.… (more)
LibraryThing member mahsdad
This is the Pulitzer Prize winning novel (1986) of the story of the South West in the years after the Civil War. It is a long, and at first, daunting book. But once you start, it pulls you along whether you want to or not.

It is the story of Gus and Call, two former Captains in the Texas Rangers. They run a cattle and horse ranch in the small town on the Mexican border called Lonesome Dove. Feeling the call of adventure, they put together a team cowboys together and "find" a herd of cattle and start on an epic journey to move them to the new frontier in Montana.

A classic western tale, men struggling to move their charges north, confronting Indian bands, thieves, and the weather. At the same time it is story of changing times, buffalos disappearing from the plains as eminent domain marches west and a love (both requited and unrequited) story between Gus and Lorena, a prostitute with a heart of gold (yeah I know a little cliched, but it works)

A brilliant story from the heat soaked porch on Lonesome Dove to Montana and back leading to an abrupt, suprising and ultimately profound ending. This was one of the best books I've read this year.

9/10

S: 3/26/17 - 6/18/17 (85 Days)
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LibraryThing member clfisha
Writing this review is so hard. This books is so amazingly, stunningly good I am in awe, riveted for the entirety of its 950 pages I raced through it in days. It doesn't matter if you don't much like westerns or huge books, this one is worth trying.

Fully deserving of the epic label, this starts off in a suitable dusty town in Texas with what at first seems those quirky characters always found in stories set in out of the way small towns the world over. It's a pleasant experience easing into the story, especially one as engaging as this, soon though this story starts packing hard, glorious punches.

It has many grand themes (but I don't want to spoil it even slightly). It is at heart a story about life in the last
death throes of the wild west, still it is a harsh life: violent, unfair and tragic but also glorious. The characters are fantastic and I take my hat off to McMurty who creates such strong interesting female characters in a world populated mostly by men. But then McMurty is the master of story. The pacing and plot in such a large book is stunning he knows when to be foreboding, when to sweep aside your expectations, when to make you smile and (for my part) cry like a baby.

Look just try this book, please? The 1st 50 pages will tell you like the style but if your not sure of the story stay with it because it grows beautifully. You will grow to love (or hate) the characters and it's rare a book makes me care that much to honest, I was in floods of tears at the end.
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LibraryThing member browner56
There was a review of the movie 'Saving Private Ryan' a few years ago which argued that that work was not so much a great film as it was three or four great individual scenes tied together with a lot of mundane transitional passages. I thought of that observation quite a bit as I was reading 'Lonesome Dove' and I’ve come to the conclusion that the same critique applies. Basically, this is the story of a cattle drive from Texas to Montana in the late 19th century where a handful of dramatic, harrowing events happen in the midst of hundreds of pages where nothing else really does. Of course, this is hardly an indictment of either the author or the novel as I imagine that schism typified everyday existence on the frontier most of the time.

It is really no stretch to call this an epic book, not because there was anything particularly heroic about the quest that the men from the Hat Creek Cattle Company were on but for the majestic sweep of the story itself. McMurtry has created a richly imagined world, full of detailed descriptions of a wide variety of people as they go about their daily activities. In Augustus McCrae, the author has brought to life one of the most engaging and memorable characters in modern literature. Gus is the heart and soul of the novel and the person around whom all of the most significant action revolves. Unfortunately, the other main protagonists are less successfully drawn (e.g., the tune that Call plays has but a single note; Lorena vacillates wildly in personality and demeanor, although some of that is understandable given the circumstances).

Before starting the book, I had heard it said that nobody ever regretted reading 'Lonesome Dove'. Having now finished it, I certainly cannot dispute that statement. As good as the story was, however, the most satisfying thing about the book for me were the remarkable depictions of the physical landscape Gus and his colleagues encounter on their journey from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. As much as anything, McMurtry has given the reader a poignant homage to the country when it was young enough that there was still land to explore but mature enough that the end of that expansion was clearly in sight. This is by no means a flawless tale, but it is one that was told well and, ultimately, was a pleasure to read.
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LibraryThing member dbeveridge
This is about as close to a Great American Novel as I can think. So rich in history, myth, humor and sweet characterization, it sings a slow and beautiful American song. Its contemplation of the strengths and weaknesses in our character, and in our relations with each other, is note-perfect. It was one of my dad's favorites, and just like one of the characters in the book I have long avoided it for that nonsensical reason. No longer. It's now in my personal pantheon.… (more)
LibraryThing member tcbonline
I don't normally write reviews but I felt compelled in this case after a long slog through this novel. How this thing won the pulitzer prize is a mystery to me. I was bored most of the way through. The story reads more like syrupy romance novel and the writing is just plain bad. Don't be fooled by all raves, this book is not good enough to justify its length. Don't say I didn't warn you!… (more)
LibraryThing member Zumbanista
It took me a few chapters to settle into Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry and get used to the dialogue. I knew it was a Pulitzer Prize winning novel and could see right away that the prose was exemplary. It's very lengthy at 960 pages and yet, I didn't feel it was a long read.

The story itself is a simple one about a group of cowboys, headed by two former Texas Rangers, on a 3000 mile cattle drive from Texas to Montana. But it isn't just a story about the expected trials and travails encountered along the way, Lonesome Dove is about the complicated relationships between the two primary, and the many secondary, characters. The tale unravels at a very steady pace which allows the reader time to absorb all the exquisite details of the landscape, towns and life on the Frontier and the riveting dramatic highs and lows.

The large cast of characters, some who flow in and out of the narrative, are brilliantly portrayed. With their individual strengths, frailties and peculiarities so well defined, it's easy to keep track of them all. The author has an uncanny knack of writing distinct dialogue, with humour, sarcasm, hope, fear, resentment, anger, regret, longing and love, all equally well expressed.

McMurtry lures us into complacency as he sets up the story, introduces the characters and the story begins to unfold. When the drama arrives, it's hard-hitting and gut-wrenching, Death is always near.

The cowboys' skills, courage to overcome their fears and endurance of the weather and endless days and nights in the saddle on the cattle drive is striking.

The author has the amazing talent of creating heart rending insights into the mental states of his characters. We see the petty jealousies between the men and how irritated with and intolerant of each other they become as their enforced time together on the trail lengthens. The story centers on the unspoken emotions and thoughts of the characters, Clara being the exception. She's used to speaking her mind and likes an argument as much as Gus does. The excessive anxiety and runaway thoughts which result in obsessiveness debunks the myth of the strong silent cowboy. Our cowboys are fragile and silent for the most part.

The few female figures are complex, independent and damaged. I was surprised by the depth of their bitterness and how adversarial they were towards the males. Most of the men come off badly, Gus less so because he genuinely knows and likes women. As my favourite figure, Gus McRae will be a character I remember for a long time. I love his wit, honesty, wisdom and audacity and that he's as flawed a man as there ever was.

I found myself disappearing into McMurtry's world and often replayed scenes as I fell asleep. Lonesome Dove will be one epic of the Old West that stays with me for quite a while.
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LibraryThing member 1hitwonder
Lovingly written, wonderful characterisations, realistic cowboy tale. A bit too realistic in some parts but we are given the understanding that these events were more in line with the true old west than many 20th Century media would have us believe. The novel had an authentic feel to it and was rich with a history that leads one to realize that McMurtry knows of which he speaks. A true epic western with color and detail. I just could not put it down.… (more)
LibraryThing member eherbst
Lonesome Dove is an epic Western set just after the Civil War. The narrative centers on two aging ex-Texas Rangers leading a cattle drive from south Texas to the Montana story. As the cowboys find lead their cattle north, their paths cross with many others making their way in the American West, including a young prostitute, a Arkansas sheriff, a murderous Native American, and many more.

Death is at the center of this novel. No one could read it without appreciating the high cost of the making American West. Still, I would describe it as more hopeful or optimistic than many "anti Westerns" I've read (for example Butcher's Crossing). I think I would describe it as elegaic, like a beautiful funeral for a good friend. Despite the violence and sadness, McMurty richly draws his characters. There are great moments of love and friendship and scenery and kinship, which are missing from both classic adventure Westerns and anti Western (which can be more like horror novels.)

While the book is over 900 pages, it reads quite easily, with short chapters pulling you along. It took me a couple of weeks.
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LibraryThing member Bjace
I think this is one of the best novels written in English after 1950. Why it isn't on the Modern Library 100 is beyond me.
LibraryThing member edgeworth
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.
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LibraryThing member LisaMorr
Wow, just wow. Let me just say that I don't read westerns - I can't for the life of me remember ever reading a western before this. This was amazing. McMurtry has such a way with words. Every character (and there were quite a few) was so well developed. Every sense was titillated. I felt the sand sting, heard the thunder crack, saw the lightning, felt the pelt of the hail, heard the Indian war cry, felt my mouth parch... I was Gus, Call, Lorena, Deets, Newt... Cannot recommend this enough. Go read it!… (more)

Genres

Publication

Simon & Schuster

Original publication date

1985

ISBN

0-671-50420-7 / 9780671504205
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