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.