sckenda's Reviews > Comanche Moon

Comanche Moon by Larry McMurtry
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Aug 04, 13

bookshelves: western, all-nighter, texas, native-americans
Recommended for: Children of the Llano Estacado
Read in January, 2002 — I own a copy, read count: 1

I don’t understand myself. I flinch whenever torture is portrayed on screen or in books. My knees buckle. I suppress a wave of nausea. If there must be a killing, let us be done with the deed as fast as possible and hope that the victim had it coming. Yet, reading “Comanche Moon,” I found myself galloping across the bloody plains dodging one mutilated body after another in this, the second chronological book in the Lonesome Dove series.

McMurtry understands our species' ghoulish fascination with death and dismemberment, especially of the imaginative variety, and he splashes bright, bloody paint across sunsets and red rock landscapes. An element of Quentin Tarentino combines with an element of John Ford to form the unstable and radioactive McMurtry compound-- overstated (comic violence) mashed with understated (elegant elegy). McMurtry puts me in touch with some atavistic alleles holding down some dark corners of my id. I squawked out a Comanche war cry and charged headlong into McMurtry’s frightening vision.

Gus and Woodrow, famous from "Lonesome Dove" (the novel to start with), are portrayed here as Rangers in the vigor of early middle-age. Gus's loquacity is ever with us. Trying to cheer up a fellow Ranger fearing for his wife in the Great Comanche Raid on Austin, Gus jokes: "Now Billy, don't worry... Pearl's too bossy to steal. She'd argue those Comanches to a frazzle. I expect she'll be there ready to boss you, when we get back."

The Rangers are blessed with a colorful cast of well-developed allies and enemies, most of whom appear in other installments of the Lonesome Dove quartet. Famous Shoes—the serene and dignified Kickapoo tracker-- guides the Rangers across the harsh Llano Estacado (the staked plains). Buffalo Hump, the Comanche War Chief recognizing the end of an era, unleashes a campaign of slaughter from Austin to the Gulf of Mexico in the Great Raid of 1856.

But two new and outlandish characters, Inish Scull and Ahumado, who appear only in this volume, steal the show. Captain Inish Scull quit the Harvard faculty to lead Texas Rangers because he ''saw no reason to be teaching military history when he could go out in the field and make it.'' Scull quotes Greek and Latin poetry and habitually punctuates his conversations with the unique exclamation— “Bible and Sword, men! Bible and sword!” Scull also peppers his didactic monologues with literary and historical allusions, lost to his mostly illiterate Rangers:
"Now boys, look there! See that? There's your Alps. If you find yourself in Switzerland or France you have to cross them before you can get to Italy and eat the tasty noodle. That was Hannibal's challenge. He had all those elephants, but the Alpine passes were deep in snow. What was he to do? Now, by the way, your Mongol Hun cooked his meat by horse heat."
When Kicking Wolf, a Comanche horse thief steals “Hector,” Scull’s beloved horse, we learn where Scull’s true priorities lie--but if you have read the book, you will know what I mean when I say, he will learn to keep his eyes wide open in the future.

Another character is Ahumado, the vaquero bandit, rumored to worship ancient jungle gods like Jaguar and Parrot. This outlandish villain seems to compete against his own devilish imagination to devise ever more creative tortures—which may have you guffawing in wonderment at his garish methodology. He often recruits insects and reptiles into his schemes, and later we witness irony involving a small arachnid.

I spent my teens on the Llano Estacado and traipsed across every acre of the Palo Duro Canyon (the location of much of "Comanche Moon’s" action), so I recognized the people and the country portrayed by McMurtry. This harsh landscape summons all heroic individuals—Native Americans; Hispanics; and whites. Despite the different races and skin tones, they all belong to the same tribe—tough sons (and daughters) of bitches. This book is loved by all their descendants, among whom I am one. Out on the high plains you do what you must to survive. If you cannot scale these steep canyon walls and track these blood trails, stay home with the shopkeepers and clerks back East.

August 2, 2013





Links to my reviews in the Lonesome Dove Quartet:

Dead Man’s Walk (1)
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

Comanche Moon (2)
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

Lonesome Dove (3)
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

Streets of Laredo (4)
I have read but not yet reviewed.
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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by Kim (new)

Kim Great review, Steve! I'm so impressed by your ability to write such interesting and cogent reviews about books you read years ago. I find that unless it's a book I've read more than once, I have difficulty remembering much about it shortly after I've finished reading. Which is why I generally have to write a review immediately or not at all.


message 2: by René (new)

René Entertaining and evocative review Steve. But was Pearl there to boss Billy when he got home or was Gus being too optimistic?


sckenda Kim wrote: "Great review, Steve! I'm so impressed by your ability to write such interesting and cogent reviews about books you read years ago. I find that unless it's a book I've read more than once, I have di..."

Kim, thank you. My ability to re-create a reading experience is more a product of my method than my memory. I use a system of highlighting in yellow and pink as well as underlining in pencil and ink to be able to re-create characters, plots and memorable lines. Every book that I read looks like a college textbook. It is so effective that I almost never read borrowed books because, in my experience, it is like so much sand through the hour glass after the initial read is over. Pace yourself, I hope to write over a thousand reviews of my back catalog over the next 10 years, in addition to reviewing all new books that I read. ;)


message 4: by sckenda (last edited Aug 02, 2013 05:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

sckenda René wrote: "Entertaining and evocative review Steve. But was Pearl there to boss Billy when he got home or was Gus being too optimistic?"

Oh thank you so much, Rene. (view spoiler)


message 5: by Megha (last edited Aug 02, 2013 05:16PM) (new)

Megha Oh, I didn't even know that Lonesome Dove was a series. I had only heard of the book with the same title.


sckenda Megha wrote: "Oh, I didn't even know that Lonesome Dove was a series. I had only heard of the book with the same title."
Hi Megha. Yes, I will hasten to add that LD is my favorite and that each work of the quartet could be read separately. LD was written first but takes place 3rd in time.


message 7: by Kim (new)

Kim Steve aka Sckenda wrote: "My ability to re-create a reading experience is more a product of my method than my memory. I use a system of highlighting in yellow and pink as well as underlining in pencil and ink to be able to re-create characters, plots and memorable lines. ..."

I'm even more impressed. I also rarely read borrowed books, but more because I'm a terrible library user. Either I don't read the book, forget about it and return it late, or I read it, want to keep it and have to buy it. I used to mark books all the time when I was studying, but I haven't done so with any consistency since I handed in my last university paper many moons ago. Anyway, I admire both your method and your dedication and I'm looking forward to reading more of your reviews.


message 8: by Ted (new) - added it

Ted Thanks for the review Steve. The only one of these books I actually have in my library is Streets of Laredo, which I've read three times I think. I can't pick it up without reading it.

I'm almost certain I've read Lonesome Dove, and think the reason I can't lay my hands on it is that I gave it to my daughter as a present, borrowed it to read it, then gave it back ... or now that I think of it, I may have actually read it before I wrapped it that Christmas.

This one and Dead Man's Walk I've never read, to the to-read shelf with them!


sckenda Ted wrote: "Thanks for the review Steve. The only one of these books I actually have in my library is Streets of Laredo, which I've read three times I think. I can't pick it up without reading it.

I'm almost ..."

Oh wonderful news, Ted. Funny, Streets of Laredo was the last one that I read of the 4, and only read it several years ago, despite it was the second one written. I love them all and plan on reviewing Streets of Laredo in a week or two. I bet you could write a kick-ass review of that one after reading it three times. I was amazed at what McMurtry did with Pea Eye in Streets. I did not see that coming.


message 10: by Ted (new) - added it

Ted I don't remember too many details any more of Streets. Probably time I read it again. Thanks again Steve, I'm making sure I've got all these in GR now.


message 11: by sckenda (last edited Aug 02, 2013 08:06PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

sckenda Kim wrote: "Steve aka Sckenda wrote: "My ability to re-create a reading experience is more a product of my method than my memory. I use a system of highlighting in yellow and pink as well as underlining in pen..."

LOL. I misread your comment at first, I thought you said you finished university "months" ago rather than "moons" ago. I thought, wow, she is a judge and is still developing her education. People who see me with all my colored markers which I am constantly breaking out think it quite a silly sight. I also keep my laptop handy to look up vocabulary words or places with which I am unfamiliar. Perhaps like me, you find that the very act of writing a review helps solidify a book in your mind.


Michael Just love it how a powerful and dark story gets transformed by your saintly soul into a poetic model of the universe. So happy you take the time to share your experiences with these books and others from the past that bounced on the 5 star ceiling.

I must have just been reacting to the total integration of Lonesome Dove and focus of Dead Man's Walk when I gave this one 3 stars for missing those qualities. I should have recognized it's great coverage of the chaos factor behind life on the frontier. You make an inspired characterization with: An element of Quentin Tarentino combines with an element of John Ford to form the unstable and radioactive McMurtry compound .


message 13: by Kim (new)

Kim Steve aka Sckenda wrote: "Perhaps like me, you find that the very act of writing a review helps solidify a book in your mind...."

It does indeed. And knowing that I'll be writing a review makes me read differently. I pay a lot more attention to what I feel about a book and why I feel that way than I used to. As for studying, my last foray into formal learning ended with the completion of a post-graduate degree in 1998. I briefly toyed with the idea of turning my thesis for that degree into a doctoral dissertation. However, I'd had enough of university study and decided that if I wanted to do any further courses, it would be something related to cooking or learning another language.


sckenda Michael wrote: "Just love it how a powerful and dark story gets transformed by your saintly soul into a poetic model of the universe. So happy you take the time to share your experiences with these books and othe..."

Marvelous and generous comment, Michael. Though I don't deserve it I greedily accept from my good friend from ME, whom shall one day be rewarded with a bombardment of free drinks as we toast all the great books we have read. I have been lucky with LM. I think so much of how we react to books by authors whom we have previously enjoyed is timing and frame of mind. I have heard negative reactions from those who read them, after the other. I wonder if it helped me as I spaced out each one by a good 5 years each.


message 15: by Mark (new)

Mark Great review with which to re-enter the hallowed halls of GR after I have been absent for some time. Your enthusiasm and emotive language still there to welcome me back, Hurrah.


sckenda Mark wrote: "Great review with which to re-enter the hallowed halls of GR after I have been absent for some time. Your enthusiasm and emotive language still there to welcome me back, Hurrah."

Oh, I am so glad you have returned my greatly missed friend. Sorry to greet you with such a blood bath.


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