Lizzie's Reviews > Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
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's review
Jun 02, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: read-in-2010, best-of-2010
Read from June 02 to 27, 2010

A magnificent novel by a great storyteller. Gus McCray and W. F. Call once were Texas Rangers together but they've run a livery stable in Lonesome Dove, on the Rio Grande, for years. They get a visit from an old Ranger buddy, Jake Spoon, and his tales of ranch lands in the north make them decide to assemble a herd of cattle, drive it North, and settle there as ranchers. They bring along various cowboys, a young boy who's lived with them on the ranch, a couple of townsmen who want to get out, and impulsively Gus invites the town's whore. Of course, everyone has history with each other, which makes this story more than just an account of taking some cattle to Montana. The story widens to include people whose paths cross the Lonesome Dove crew.

It's the 1880s, the end of an era, and Call and McCray know it. As they drive North they can't believe all the little towns and settlers. Was this what they did all their Rangering for? Without belaboring it, you see what incredibly hard work these men do. They've got the clothes on their backs and a bedroll. They drive the cattle all day, sometimes all night when there's a hailstorm or a sandstorm. They cross rivers and hope they won't encounter water snakes or get thrown from their horse. At night they eat beans and whatever the cook can come up with, and sleep on the ground. As the story goes on there are some amazing things like having to drive the cattle 80 miles to the next water, or someone walking barefoot across the plains for two days in search of help. Well, it was that or die.

You see what big spaces the West contains, and how empty most of it was. There's a lot about all the different reasons people are there in the West. Most of them didn't plan to go there, they just ended up there. A lot of them are Civil War veterans but nobody seems to care about that any more. You also get a sense of how many people of these people were misfits, or damaged, or just plain psychotic. You had to be tough to survive, even in a town, and you had to be hard to make it. Some hard men survive at the expense of others, and it's soon pretty clear why horse theft is still a hanging offense. You steal a man's horses in country where water is 80 miles away, you've as good as killed him. (Now I'm talking like a character in the book.)

I couldn't sleep thinking about everything in this book. It will stay with me for a long time.

I wasn't expecting to like it. I'd had it for years and challenged myself: "You want to keep it? Okay, then why don't you read it NOW?" I think I assumed a western would be dull accounts of hard to follow action with horses, and fighting. It wasn't like that. I'd put it in the category of books I feel a little guilty about because they're so easy and enjoyable to read, stories about people. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the poster child for that type of book.


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