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Friday, January 20, 2017

Lonesome Dove

Here's my review of Lonesome Dove, next on my reading list are The Stars, Like Dust, Hillbilly Elegy, and My Antonia.

I have never been a fan of Western movies; Shane is the subject of a special pool of hatred in my heart.  As such, I approached Lonesome Dove in much the same way that I did War and Peace.  A 945 page novel about mismatched retired Texas Rangers making a cattle drive in the 1870s? I expected it to be a long, tedious slog that would ultimately damage my desire to read.  But like War and Peace, Lonesome Dove turned out to be a wonderful surprise.  This book is fantastic.

Lonesome Dove was originally written as a screenplay, but the production fell through when John Wayne declined.  I think there might have been some regulation requiring his presence in any movie with cowboys.  It might have ended there.  Instead, the author, Larry McMurtry (Terms of Endearment and The Last Picture Show) bought the 75-page screenplay from the studio and expanded it into a novel spanning almost a thousand pages published in 1985.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was ultimately made into a miniseries that was largely credited with revitalizing both the Western genre and miniseries format.  In the end, the Lonesome Dove franchise included four novels, five miniseries, and two television shows (although neither of them made it past the first season).

Lonesome Dove: A Novel by [McMurtry, Larry]
Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call are famous ex-Rangers running a livery stable in the barely-a-town of Lonesome Dove near the Texas-Mexico border.  Probably due to boredom more than anything else, they decide to acquire a herd of cattle and drive it to Montana to create the first ranch in the territory.  That's the main story at least.  There's a host of characters in a number of side plots which sometimes interact in ways that do, at times, defy belief.  

As I said, I don't care for Westerns on TV.  I do think that consuming them in book form makes them more accessible for me.  When I have watched Westerns, the behavior of the characters generally made no sense to me.  I really can't understand where they're coming from and cowboys aren't known for explaining their thought processes.  Depending on the narrative perspective, books can greatly alleviate this problem.

It wasn't just the medium.  In a book or on TV, duels, cattle drives, cowboys, and the horrors of the frontier (rape and torture included) hold no inherent interest to me.  But the way that McMurtry wrote the novel made the story and the characters incredibly compelling.  To be honest, it's a fairly depressing novel as a whole.  There are moments that made me smile or laugh, but the frontier was a brutal, unforgiving place and the story reflects that.

As should be apparent, I'd highly recommend this book.  My only complaints could be that, as I implied above, the improbable intersection of characters is a bit much at times and that there isn't much of a wrapping up to the story.  These things really only occurred to me when trying to look back with an analytical eye.  The story was so good that they didn't bother me at all while I was reading.

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