The Berrybender's party is moving forward across the Great Plains of the West towards Santa Fe. Tasmin's husband scouts ahead and falls in love with Pomp Charbonneau, who dies at the hand of the ruthless commander of the Spanish troops. A vast cast of characters meet up with the party as they travel, proving that the rolling grassy plains are not as empty as they look.
Outrageous is the best general characterization of these stories. The adventures and their characters seem larger than life and more colorful than neon. Not for the faint of heart, unexpected, random, senseless and disturbing atrocities, injuries, and deaths litter these tales, with a side of lots of “rutting.” The majority of the initial primary characters do not survive to see book four4 of the series.
Yet, the stories grabbed me. I went through the series like popcorn, wanting to see what amazing events would occur to the crazy Berrybenders and their growing entourage. The series is intense, rollercoastering through every facet of human emotion and many aspects of abnormal psychology. Nothing dull in these books. The frequent connections to actual historical persons and events keep the tales interesting and grounded, despite the continuum of bizarre incidents. Not for everyone, but I liked it.
By the beginning of this book, the Berrybender family and its traveling party have several fewer members than they had at the beginning of Lord Berrybender's quest to kill as many of the wild animals populating America's West as he possibly can. But the old man is not ready to call it a day and, in fact, he could not do so even if he wanted to because he has placed himself and his entire party in such a dangerous position that the only choice they have is to move on to Santa Fe.
It will not be an easy journey, and if everyone is to get to Santa Fe before winter sets in, they need to start moving in that direction immediately. But hard as they know the trek will be, they also know that those who manage to survive the journey will have a relatively safe place to spend the cold months just ahead - a refuge promising them a brief respite from the onslaught of fierce Indians who have been killing off the adventurers one-by-one for the last several months.
Despite all the suffering and brutality endured by the Berrybender group, By Sorrow's River is really a love story - one involving a love-triangle in which the passionate Tasmin Berrybender finds herself torn between Sin Killer (her husband) and Pomp Charbonneau (son of, Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark's famous interpreter). By nature, Sin Killer can take only so much of civilization and "crowds" before he feels compelled to head out on his own again. And now, because he has been away from Tasmin for so much of their marriage, she is happily giving in to her attraction to Pomp, who seems to be just the man she has been looking for all of her life. Pomp, though, is at best a reluctant participant in the love-triangle, and if anything is to come of their relationship it will be up to Tasmin to make it happen.
By Sorrow's River, too, is another rousing adventure story with quirky fictional (two French hot-air balloonists, for example) characters interacting with real-life individuals from one of the most exciting periods in American history. It is Larry McMurtry at the peak of his skills. "The Berrybender Narratives," all four volumes of it, deserves to be placed on the shelf right next to the author's masterpiece, Lonesome Dove. It is just that good.