The reason I picked up Lonesome Dove is that for years, I’ve said that I’ll read just about anything but romances and westerns. I thought it was about time that I give westerns another try – after all, tastes change. Besides, I frankly could not remember what I read that made me not like westerns. It could have been a bad example of the genre. Lonesome Dove enjoys a wonderful reputation – it won a Pulitzer – so I figured that if I gave it a shot and didn’t like it then I was probably justified in my judgment against westerns.
In short, Larry McMurtry has made a believer out of me. Westerns can be great!
The book is about 1000 pages long, so I had no doubt in the propaganda on the cover stating that it was an “epic” story. It was most certainly epic. And yet, not long enough. My only complaint about the book is that the end left far too much unsaid, undone, and unanswered. There should have been more. I understand that there are two prequels and one sequel to this story and they will show up on The List here shortly. I’m also now interested in the mini-series.
In general, the book revolves around two ex-Texas Rangers who decide to drive a huge herd of cattle to Montana after they hear from an old buddy that Montana is “a cattleman’s paradise” and yet still unsettled. It’s a vast simplification of the book, but that’s the essentially the backbone of it. McMurtry’s characters are so real, you can practically smell them – and the dangers they face are so pervasive that you can’t help but be gripped.
Even while reading the book, I found it striking to look up from the cattle drive and think about how far we’ve come in just a few generations. The people in this book were durable. Self-reliant. Tough as nails. The weak did not survive long, even under the protection of the strong. “Do or die” wasn’t a possible slogan to sell sports equipment – it was literal. It’s no wonder the time period is so romanticized. The people who lived through this time period in the American West… they were remarkable in way that we will probably never see again. Not just the American settlers – the book is set during a time in which the Native American populations are already in a steep decline. There are still skirmishes in the book, but mostly the Native Americans the characters encounter are less concerned with fighting than with avoiding starvation (with one or two notable exceptions).
I highly, highly recommend this one. After some distance, I may change my mind, but at the moment, I’d have to say that Lonesome Dove should be on every reader’s list.
I understand that Larry McMurtry opened a book store in Washington, DC called Booked Up. If I ever get a chance, I fully intend to check it out! Let me know if you’ve gotten a chance to go yourself. Tough to beat a bookstore.