Epic western novel about an ambitious cattle drive from Texas to Montana
When my friend told me that this book was her best read of 2017, I admit, I dithered a bit and didn’t get around to buying a copy. Insistent that I read “the best book ever written”, my friend bought me the first copy she came across: this beaten up old book missing a front cover. I needed to choose a book for my 80th book of 2018, and even though I had to stay up all night on New Year’s Eve reading, I managed to finish it.
“Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry is an epic Western novel set in Texas. Augustus McCrae and W. F. Call are two retired Texas Rangers who are making a living rustling cattle from across the border in Mexico. With lazy idyll interspersed with bouts of criminal activity and visits to the town’s sole sex worker, McCrae is searching for something to give his life meaning again. After a smooth-talking old colleague drops into town with stories of endless unclaimed land in Montana, McCrae decides to attempt to be the first outfit to drive cattle all the way from Texas through the Yellowstone. Encouraged by the idea of crossing paths again with a long-lost love, romantic McCrae agrees to make the journey. However with a collection of green cowboys and a sex worker who wanted to go to San Francisco in tow, the many challenges they come across may prove to be their undoing.
This is a monumental novel that has everything. Adventure, heroism, moral decisions, romance, betrayal and just about every natural disaster you can think of. I actually feel like the grandfather in the opening scenes of The Princess Bride describing this book. McMurty is a talented writer who has a real flair for dialogue. From cover to cover, the book is chock-a-block filled with action and I think if you know a reluctant reader who finds books ‘boring’, this would be a great place to get them started.
Now, as epic as this book is, do I think it is the best book ever written? Unfortunately, no. That place in my heart is already taken. In addition to that, there are some things that are a bit difficult about this book. First of all, while I appreciate that it was written in the 1980s about the 1800s, there were quite a few things that felt extra dated about this. I don’t know which was more obvious: that the women were either saints or whores (except the incredible Janey), or that the Native American characters were all barbarians. It is definitely a book centred on a very typical idea of masculinity with some very fluid ideas about the appropriateness and morality of violence (problematic when experienced by the main characters, but necessary when dealing with others). The challenges posed for the cowboys by the natural environment do also become a little relentless, but it admittedly does get to a point where it is just entertaining rather than repetitive.
An action-packed behemoth from a different era about a different era, despite some outdated tropes, this is nevertheless a great book to give to someone if they typically don’t enjoy reading.