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Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
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's review
Dec 16, 11

Read in January, 2010

HEADLINE: Where do we place Lonesome Dove and Gone With the Wind within the American Canon?

Who gives a damn? Really. What do we care? Here is what we do with Lonesome Dove and Gone With the Wind. We read them.

Half way through Lonesome Dove Augustus McCrae rides into the breaks of the Canadian River. He is tracking Blue Duck who has kidnapped Lorena. He comes upon an old adversary, Aus Frank, a former mountain man and ineffectual bank robber, in the middle of nowhere. Aus is collecting buffalo bones that are scattered as far as the eye can see. He is loading them in his wheelbarrow, wheeling them across the plains, and then piling them up in enormous pyramids in the Canadian valley. Only Aus himself would know the reason for this work. Perhaps old Aus does not know.

I am not going to compare and contrast Larry McMurtry with Cormac McCarthy in his southwestern phase. Nonetheless, that image is the equal of any that Cormac McCarthy ever created.

The scene causes Augustus to ponder:

Soon the whites would come, of course, but what he was seeing was a moment between, not the plains as they had been, or as they would be, but a moment of true emptiness, with thousands of miles of grass resting unused, occupied only by remnants—of the buffalo, the Indians, the hunters. Augustus thought they were crazed remnants, mostly, like the old mountain man who worked night and day gathering bones to no purpose.

That is the setting for Lonesome Dove, the brief “in between time” in the West. Captain McCrae and Captain Call of the Texas Rangers are themselves remnants and a bit crazed, too. They launch out into this “in between time,” Augustus only reluctantly, with a vast herd of cattle and a remuda, some collected in Texas and some stolen in México, and with a ragtag collection of cowboys head north to a vague destination called “Montana.”

I may still be under the spell of the story, but as a masterpiece of its kind. It is a captivating story, populated with vivid characters, and well told.

By the way, a problem has been solved. A mystery is no longer a mystery.

You will recall that in the beginning of Lonesome Dove, Augustus fashions a sign for the Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium. A man who valued education, Gus felt compelled to add a Latin motto to the sign. Even though he had no idea what it meant, he chose, "Uva uvam vivendo varia fit." [Emphasis mine.:] He chose that motto only because he thought it looked right.

This has bothered me for years because Larry McMurtry never tells us what this Latin motto means. I have finally figured it out. Gus mispelled videndo, carving vivendo into the sign instead. Therein lies the problem.

Uva uvam videndo varia fit literally means, "A grape changes color in seeing another grape." The sense of it is, "a bad friend makes you a bad person," or "a good friend makes you a good person."

No need to thank me.

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Reading Progress

12/24/2009 page 242
25.61% 5 comments
01/02/2010 page 416
44.02% "The book will make you thirsty."
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Barbara (new)

Barbara I absolutely agree that this novel deserves to be taken more seriously than it has been, Steve. I think it's McMurtry at his peak. My dad and I both read this a few years before he died. He liked it too but said that McMurtry got the geography on the Platte River wrong.

message 2: by Bob (new)

Bob Barbara wrote: "I absolutely agree that this novel deserves to be taken more seriously than it has been, Steve. I think it's McMurtry at his peak. My dad and I both read this a few years before he died. He like..."

I completely agree, Barbara. I've read it twice and I keep thinking it's about time to do a third. I love Westerns anyway, but I can't think of anything I enjoy as much as this, especially because it's a nice big fat one. Hmmmm...I wonder if it's on Kindle. My paperback has surely bit the dust by now!


Gail Thank you for the traslation and review, Tio. This book is one of my all-time favorites.

Roman Sonnleitner Ah, so I'm not alone in seeing parallels to Cormac McCarthy...

Ruth I thank you anyway. The lack of translation definitely bothered me.

Bill Thanks anyways :)

Alfred Smith I too, thank you for the translation! I loved Lonesome Dove, and agree that it's under appreciated. Have you read The Son, by Philipp Meyer? The Son and Lonesome Dove, are my two favorite westerns.

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