Rachel's Reviews > Folly and Glory

Folly and Glory by Larry McMurtry
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Jul 18, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction
Read from August 18 to 27, 2010

The Berrybender tetralogy is McMurtry's "other" tetralogy, and is far inferior to the tetralogy that includes Lonesome Dove. I couldn't help comparing the two, and the main difference is that Lonesome Dove and its sequel Streets of Laredo were complete novels in and of themselves. The two weaker books in that series, Comanche Moon and Dead Man's Walk, although chronologically first, were published last and served mostly to fill in blank spaces in the histories of Call and McCrae. Reading the first three books in the Berrybender narrative, Sin Killer, The Wandering Hill, and By Sorrow's River, is similar to reading the first two novels in the Lonesome Dove narrative in that it feels like it's all scene-setting; the problem is that it concerns characters that I won't particularly care about until I get to this final novel.

The series takes place over four years and concerns the Berrybenders, an aristocratic family from England who have come to the American West in the early 1800s on an extended hunting trip. Although it's a large family, the story centers on the oldest daughter Tasmin and her marriage to frontiersman Jim Snow, also known as the Sin Killer for reasons that don't become completely apparent until Folly and Glory. There really isn't enough plot to sustain four novels; it felt as though it might have been written just as one long novel and then broken up, more or less arbitrarily, according to which river the family was traveling upon at the time. Despite that, the series oddly feels unfinished and the ending rushed, as if the bulk of the action, primarily Jim's attack on the slavers' camp, got moved to the fourth novel and the aftermath of that attack jettisoned. So although I spent much of the first three novels wondering why there seemed to be so much meandering exposition, when I got to the end, I could have used about 20 pages more of resolution.

But overall, I liked the series. There are few things better than listening to McMurtry's characters talk to each other, and the conversation between the dying killer Partezon and the prophet Greasy Lake, in which they bicker like old ladies over who should get the horse, is worth the price of admission. The Berrybender narratives weren't my favorite of McMurtry's work; I liked them, but did find myself wishing he weren't quite so prolific. When he's good, there's no one better, but even when he's just okay, he's still better than most writers working today.
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