A love story and an epic of the frontier, Lonesome Dove is the grandest novel ever written about the last, defiant wilderness of America. Richly authentic, beautifully written, Lonesome Dove is a book to make readers laugh, weep, dream and remember. Now a blockbuster television event.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
S: 3/26/17 - 6/18/17 (85 Days)
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.
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.
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.
We follow Gus and Call. Two old-timers, but utterly famous in their own right as Texas Rangers. And it's not like they lost their way with horses or guns either. At first, these were the two dullest characters I've read about. Who cares about a drunk, talkative old man who likes to go whoring or a silent commander who only knows duty? Bah, not me.
Well... until we get about two hundred pages in. But then something strange happens. Suddenly these characters come to life and the old wild west becomes an utterly interesting place, rather than just an old cliche with Texas dust and cowboys. I found myself invested in these characters. And even more startling, I found myself invested in the side characters as well - even when more and more of them were introduced.
Lorena, at first a boring side character, quickly becomes someone you love a little because of her strength despite her weakness. Yeah, that sentence didn't really make any sense. But that's kind of how I feel about all the characters. Complex. They all have a quiet motive.
Y'know, there is a saying for writers to never let characters say exactly what they want. Everything they say should be indirectly relevant to their true desire, but what true person would say it aloud so easily? And McMurtry does this so beautifully. Every character has a hidden motive, a desire to be respected, to be loved, to find meaning in duty, to be acknowledged by the crew or maybe just his father, etc. It's so well-written, it really is.
The plot isn't exactly something we care about. Honestly, their end goal of Montana is more of a distant objective and we are mainly just watching the daily lives and interactions of these men and the occasional woman. The book holds a lot of little subplots too, with Jake Spoon and his antics, July Johnson and his companions, Elmira, etc. We get little glimpses of people's lives and it always enhances the book. At first I thought I would hate these characters because they were so small and usually subplots are worthless and boring in other books. But I found myself interested in their lives too. Ah, you see? I can't even talk about the plot without finding myself analyzing the characters again.
I mean, there's plenty of action - and all very well written action to boot. But that isn't why you will finish the book.
Okay. But I also have to say something about the last hundred pages. OMGOSH WHAT JUST HAPPENED. In the last hundred pages, I had to stop myself from throwing all the pillows off my bed in anger and confused disbelief. What the what?!?! I am so freaking shocked. How could he possibly kill off a main character? When Gus died, I was completely taken aback. I knew there were sequels and thought it would just follow Gus and Call around. But ahhhh I really couldn't believe it.
McMurtry writes death so well. He is not scared of killing off characters. But he does so in a way that makes it seem inevitable. It's not a ploy to make the reader sad or to cry. He does it because it's realistic. And the response from the living is so beautifully written. Hidden tears and grief and life just moving on as the cattle keep moving up towards Montana. Nothing but praise for this.
I have nothing but praise for this book, except maybe getting through the first hundred pages. It's worth 4 stars. Maybe higher if you have a soft spot for Western books and cowboys.
Definitely recommended if you're looking for a book to love characters. Or if you're just looking for a good western book.
The story McMurtry tells is rich with character and plot description. The reader really starts to feel for all the characters in the story, as McMurtry gives vivid back stories about them and weaves each persons past into their future. I just learned the book has a prequel and sequel, and plan to read them in that order.
I always thought the "Lonesome Dove" name and series was just some lame mini-series on TV. I was EXTREMELY happy to find that the book which they all stem from is truly an American classic.
I’m not sure I can pull my thoughts and emotions together to write a full-fledged review for this book. LONESOME DOVE was a book that came onto my radar because it is one of my colleagues’ favorite books ever. He recommends it to every one of our students, he donated two copies to my company’s library, he borrows those very two copies that he donated every few months to pass around to friends. Finally I happened upon an ex-library copy at a book sale and decided that it’d probably be worth at least two dollars to check it out. I wasn’t expecting the invaluable find of one of the best books I’ve ever read, a stunning achievement of characterization set in the Old Wild West.
LONESOME DOVE’s strength lies in how effortlessly Larry McMurtry conjures up a varied cast of characters. Easily a dozen characters take turns narrating over 900+ pages, and some of these characters really pissed me off with how slow/idiotic/selfish they acted. And I loved all the emotions that McMurtry was able to stir up in me. Spending time with childish Jake Spoon, depressed and selfish Elmira, damaged Lorena, and others made me realize how little I read from the points of view of characters I don’t like, and how valuable it can be.
Oh, don’t worry: there aren’t only despicable characters in this book. But no one is perfect, and there’s not necessarily one protagonist to cheer on the whole way through. McMurtry breaks your heart by letting bad things befall good characters, or not letting bad characters receive their comeuppance. In the end, however, you understand why people are willing to follow Gus and Call in their endeavors: the two of them, so different in personality, are impressive leaders in action.
Most of us have seen a scene or two of the Wild Wild West, but Larry McMurtry really makes readers live it. McMurtry’s Old Wild West’s main feature is the variety of rough characters one comes across on the road or in saloons, whores and gamblers and trigger-happy cowboys. A writer can write as much as he or she wants on the setting, but it is the people in LONESOME DOVE that really make you feel the dust between your teeth, snowblindness in your eyes, wet boots and socks through powerful Midwestern storms.
The characters in LONESOME DOVE are so strong that I’m almost reluctant to say anything critical about the book, because I can forgive just about everything in light of such splendid characterization. But if I had to make criticisms about the book, two things come to mind. The more minor one is how incomplete the ending felt. It seemed almost like McMurtry was writing along, and then, around the 900-page mark, got bored with his story, while at the same time also realizing how successful it could be, and thus raced through the end, slapped on a few satisfying conclusions but also left a lot of things frustratingly open for a sequel.
A more major concern I had was its treatment of POC characters. All the American Indians that appear in this book are heartless, cold-blooded murderers; Deets, the sole black man of the Lonesome Dove outfit, is wise, knowledgeable, and dutiful, one-with-the-earth in a prophetic way. I get it that the nineteenth-century American West was not the most non-racist period in American history, and while I felt that the characters behaved synchronously with their time, I was disappointed that a twentieth-century author couldn’t do better than rely on stereotypes for creating his POC characters.
Despite those quibbles, however, I still wholeheartedly recommend this book. LONESOME DOVE is an epic read that will easily be, if not the greatest book you’ve ever read in your life, then at least the best Western you’ll ever read in your life.