Lonesome Dove

Novelist, essayist, bookseller and screenwriter, Larry McMurtry (born 1936) is a man of staggering accomplishments.  His twenty-four published novels include The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment and his 945 page masterpiece, LONESOME DOVE

Chances are you’ve seen the TV mini-series based on the story.  Whether you have or not, the 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning book is a thrilling read, offering more depth than the excellent TV version.

A love story and an epic of the frontier, LONESOME DOVE has been called the grandest novel ever written about the last defiant wilderness of America.  It’s the story of two aging cowboys, former Texas Rangers, who organize a 2,500 mile horse drive from Mexico to Montana.  Stealing the herd from a gang of Mexican cattle rustlers, they battle horse thieves, angry Indian tribes and a renegade half breed killer named Blue Duck to reach their new land.

LONESOME DOVE  is a gritty, realistic read, filled with sweeping description and pulse-pounding action.  But what makes it most memorable is its vivid interweaving of characters.  Here are a few:

Gus McCrae, the central character, is lazy, wise and fiercely brave, a man who understands the secret pathways of a woman’s heart.  Robert Duvall’s portrayal of Gus in the TV version is unforgettable, probably his greatest role ever.

Captain Woodrow Call, Gus’s best friend, is a man whose self-imposed moral code is so lofty that he refuses to admit his own humanity or acknowledge his illegitimate son.  Wonderfully played by Tommy Lee Jones in the TV version.

Newt, Call’s teenaged illegitimate son who grows from boy to man.

Lorena, the beautiful, strangely innocent prostitute who joins the trek to find a new life.

Jake Spoon, ex-ranger and card sharp, Lorena’s ne’er-do-well lover.

Clara, Gus’s tough, womanly first love, now married to a rancher.

July Johnson, a good-hearted settler in search of his runaway wife and baby.

Deetz, former slave, soldier and master horseman.

Blue Duck, half-breed Comanche, and the meanest, ugliest, most evil villain to stalk the pages of a book.

LONESOME DOVE is not a story for the faint-hearted.  People die, most of them in gruesome, graphic ways.  But if you want to completely immerse yourself in a sweeping epic of the American West, I have three words for you.  Read this book.

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16 thoughts on “Lonesome Dove”

  1. Good morning, everybody, and happy April 1. I’ll be in and out today, but looking forward to your comments about Lonesome Dove.
    Have you read the book or seen the TV miniseries?
    Who’s your favorite Lonesome Dove character?

  2. Hi Elizabeth, thanks for the recommendation! Gus is my brother in law’s favorite character of all time. I remember his wish to be buried back in Texas. I think this was based on Oliver Loving’s last request, he of the Goodnight-Loving Trail. Or maybe I got ’em mixed up. Good post!

  3. This movie is my family’s all-time favorite. (Next to Missouri Breaks). One that we actually all sat down together to watch. It is the most accurate Western made, as far as equipment, actors able to ride well, clothes that were accurate, etc.
    My favorite actor is always Gus. Robert Duvall can never do wrong.
    I’ve never read the book, but it will be in the to be read stack.

  4. Elizabeth, Lonesome Dove is my all time favorite western novel. McMurtry really outdid himself on this one. It’s definitely a classic and deserves to be mentioned right along with some of the earlier western books. I just wish McMurtry would write another one as brilliant as Lonesome Dove.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Larry once and I have to say he’s as strange and quirky as his characters. He reminded me of Jack Nicholson in “As Good As it Gets” the way he has trouble carrying on a normal conversation. But he’s a brilliant writer.

  5. I’ve read Lonesome Dove twice, so far. Will probably read it again at some point. “Like Gone With the Wind,” “Lonesome Dove” (the book) gives so much more insight into the characters’ GMC.

    Loved “Lonesome Dove”–the book and the mini-series–but didn’t care for the sequels and prequels. “Streets of Laredo” especially. It seemed like McMurtry introduced us to characters, gave us a peek inside their tortured lives only so that we would care when he killed them off in the most gruesome way possible.

  6. I’m one of the few on the planet (I’m sure) who hasn’t read the book or seen the series. I’m going to change that very soon. Knowing it’s authentically done makes we want to spend all weekend with it. Thanks, Elizabeth, for reminding me of this wonderful classic.

    And thanks to all the Fillies for giving us wonderful glimpses this week into the period of history we all love so much.

  7. I too read the book and really enjoyed it. Luckily the movie was almost as good 🙂 Usually it’s hard for the movie to live up to the written word but they came pretty close!

  8. Elizabeth,
    My dad loved the Lonesome Dove mini series when it was on tv. I read the book, and agree–it was pretty graphic in places. It is one of the great western novels, for sure.

  9. Sorry, I’ve had to be out of the house for the past few hours. Thanks for keepig things lively with your comments.

    Tanya, I didn’t know about Oliver Goodnight’s request. Very interesting. And Gus is probably my favorite Western hero, too. Not your typical romantic lead, but such a mix of bravery and tenderness.

    Mary J, if you like the movie you would probably love the book. The movie was very true to the story.

    You actually met Larry McMurtry, Linda? Wow! I had the impression he was quirky. As someone said of Michael Jackson, with that much brilliance there are bound to be some darker traits.

    Devon, I so agree with you about the prequels and sequels. They were plain awful, especially compared with the original, which was so good. Streets of Laredo was gruesome, and there was another one where our adorable Adam Beach played the young Blue Duck with this stupid scowl glued on his face. Same expression through the whole movie!

    Yes, Tracy, you need to at least see the movie. But that huge book adds so much to the story.

    As you say, Catslady, this is one instance where the film lived up to the book. Great attention to detail, and a stunning performance by Robert Duvall as Gus. (I am in love with him, can you tell?)

    Cheryl I felt I had to warn the readers about the graphic violence. But it’s not out of place in such a realistic story. The book is indeed one of the greatest.

  10. Hi Elizabeth,

    Enjoyed your post.

    Lonesome Dove is my favorite western and probably the greatest book on friendship ever written. i often wonder if Larry was inspired in any way by True Grit.

  11. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Margaret. Since True Grit was written first, it certainly could have inspired Lonesome Dove, something we may never know unless Larry tells us.
    And I hadn’t considered this until you brought it up, but the friendship between Gus and Call is what really binds the story together. Beautiful.

  12. Real life is often not pretty. I appreciate it when an author does a good job of “telling it like it was” rather than shining it up for the readers. It may be heartbreaking at times, but it makes the good moment all the more important and appreciated.

  13. Wise words, Patricia. And I totally agree with you. Lonesome Dove truly tells it the way life must have been in those days – harsh, sad, with precious times of joy.

  14. Lonesome Dove is my ALL TIME FAVORITE book and movie
    they were both SPECTACULAR!
    and you can’t usually say that about a book and movie both

    Gus, Call and Lorena are some of my favorite fictional people in the whole wide world
    i could never say enough wonderful things about it 🙂
    was great seeing this post!

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