The Western in the latter part of the twentieth century has become almost a forgotten form. True there's been an ongoing pulp tradition in genre fiction reflecting the shoot-em ups of old, cowboys & Indians, and the like, but the days of the big screen Westerns out of Hollywood, the Western tv series on the little screen, the days when the Western informed our American mythos, have seemed to slip inexorably behind us. Until Larry McMurtry gave us LONESOME DOVE, that is. With this one big historical novel, McMurtry merged the Westerns of old again with serious literature, both historical and mainstream. Here is the story of two aging Texas rangers in the days when the frontiers of Texas are fading fast before the onslaught of civilization, caught, as in a time warp, in the sleepy border town of Lonesome Dove. They are bored, aimless men, drinking too much or working too much or just plain remembering (and trying to forget) too much. Augustus MacCrae, the drinker cum gambler cum whore-crazy old adventurer and his lifelong friend, ranger captain Woodrow Call, a man who drives himself and others too hard by half, jointly run a shoe-string ranching operation just outside of the little border town and both have gotten themselves into something of a rut. For Call the ranch and its horses are pretty much everything. For MacCrae they are barely anything at all. But the two friends stay together like old lovers for want of anywhere else to go or anything else to do. Until Call gets it into his head to make their fortunes by a big cattle drive up to the newly opened coutry of Montana. There things are still wild, he has heard, and the country still wide enough and empty enough for the taking. Room enough for two old adventurers who have had trouble adjusting to the world in Texas which their tough rangering over the years has brought an unforeseen and, perhaps, unwelcome peace. For, in fact, these men miss the old days, as folks do when they are getting on and have seen their best years fall behind them. And so to reclaim what they have lost, these two, or Call, more precisely, with Gus MaCrae tagging along, engineer one last cattle drive to the new country in the north. And thus begins an epic trek, equal to any of the great tales of the past, in which these two gauntly heroic figures and their motley crew of hangers-on undertake to reclaim the glorious past and to make a place for themselves in the uncertain future. This is a tale of heroic anti-heroes certainly, for Gus is a likeable enough cad who loves adventuring more than the people his life touches and Call is a man who is tragically out of touch with himself and those around him. Both have done terrible harm to the people, and especially the women, whose paths have crossed theirs over the years. And yet, these men are giant figures, men who stride purposefully over those obstacles which chance and the ill-will of others may throw in their way. The "road" north is fraught with sudden, senseless violence, with clumsy judgements and human treachery and yet neither Call nor Gus flinch from what they find, imposing their own harsh, if fair, sense of justice on a wild and lawless land. This is an American odyssey, a tale of searching and finding and losing, writ large against the landscape of the vanishing American west, a fitting epic to celebrate the strengths and tragic flaws which inform the American character no less than the spirit which defines our very humanity. It is a tale intended to shatter mythic stereotypes and yet one which succeeds in making them fresh and real again. It is a tale of pain and hardship and lost men and women who yet struggle valiantly to find and save themselves in a harsh world not of their own making. It is a uniquely American tale and a western in the grandest tradition. McMurtry deserves the accolades he has received for this book.
This is one of those rather rare books that can be classified as a "cross over book." That is, you really need not be a fan of the Western genre to appreciate and enjoy reading it. I fall into that category. While I have certainly read Westerns from time to time, I do not particularly like them nor do I seek them out. This work is quite different though. I have to admit that I have actually read this thing twice over the years and if I make it much longer, will probably read it again one of these … more
I'm a retired bureaucrat (having served, most recently, as an Assistant Commissioner in amunicipal agency in a major Northeastern American city). In 2002 I took an early retirement to pursue a lifelong … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.
Larry McMurtry, in books likeThe Last Picture Show, has depicted the modern degeneration of the myth of the American West. The subject ofLonesome Dove, cowboys herding cattle on a great trail-drive, seems like the very stuff of that cliched myth, but McMurtry bravely tackles the task of creating meaningful literature out of it. At first the novel seems the kind of anti-mythic, anti-heroic story one might expect: the main protagonists are a drunken and inarticulate pair of former Texas Rangers turned horse rustlers. Yet when the trail begins, the story picks up an energy and a drive that makes heroes of these men. Their mission may be historically insignificant, or pointless--McMurtry is smart enough to address both possibilities--but there is an undoubted valor in their lives. The result is a historically aware, intelligent, romantic novel of the mythic west that won the 1986Pulitzer Prizefor fiction.