Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
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Cannonball Read IV: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

By Valyruh | Book Reviews | December 21, 2012 | Comments ()


Valyruh was the second Cannonballer to complete a DOUBLE Cannonball. That's right, 104 books! Think you can beat her? Then sign up for Cannonball Read V and take her on. --mswas

I fell into Lonesome Dove when my book club facilitator chose it as our next discussion choice. The size of the book didn't faze me but the subject--an honest-to-God cowboys-and-Indians western--sure did! Hardly my idea of great literature. I somewhat reluctantly picked it up, mindful of the huge stack of other books waiting at my bedside. To my surprise and delight, the story was captivating, the characters complex, and the scenery descriptions awesome. McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has it all--the lonesome cowboy, the whore with the heart of gold, the surly Mexican cook, the big bad Indian--and yet despite the clich├ęs, McMurtry manages to inject enough genuine humanity into his book to speak compellingly to readers of a different era.

Former Texas Ranger legends Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call are getting on in years, and the Texas bandits and Indians they fought for decades are pretty much a memory. They have set up a horse-trading operation in the tiny town of Lonesome Dove, where the only entertainment is the bar above which where the pretty but infinitely sad Lorie plies her trade and dreams of escape to San Francisco. Newt is the 16-year-old son of Lorie's predecessor Maggie, who died of a broken heart after Call briefly indulged his human side just long enough to get her pregnant and then decided he couldn't handle the messiness of human relations and retreated back into his workaholic shell. After Maggie's death, Newt was taken in and raised by Call and Gus, but suspects that his father might be the carefree Jake Spoon, another Texas Ranger who had a fling with Maggie and then left town to follow his hard drinking and gambling heart. At the start of the novel, Jake returns to Lonesome Dove after being gone more than a decade, fleeing the law after having "accidentally" killed a guy in Arkansas. His lighthearted affair with Lorie melts her lonely heart and she cleaves to him as her chance to get away from her miserable existence, but as Gus puts it, Jake is looking for someone to take care of him, not the other way around.

Jake's mention of the open grassy plains of Montana somehow triggers a thirst in Call for one last great adventure, and he convinces Gus to put together a herd they will drive some 3,000 miles to the north. For Call, it is an unformed--and uninformed!-urge for change, but for Gus, it's a chance to see his old flame Clara, whose ranch is somewhere along the route. The constant banter between Call and McCrae--total opposites in character and yet profoundly dependent on each other--makes up the core of the book, I felt, while the constant tragedy and hardscrabble existence of early American western life is the backdrop.

I found the book a great deal of fun, but also terribly sad and moving. Not great literature, but a delightful read nonetheless.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it, and find more of Valyruh's reviews on the group blog.

Try to catch Malin and Valyruh in 2013. Sign up for Cannonball Read V!

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Monty

    The book has cliches cuz it's a big meta commentary on westerns, you silly, snooty little reviewer. Lonesome Dove is about what happens AFTER the Texas Rangers have saved the day, and the death of all the tropes of a classic western. It's a giant awesome literacy commentary that ALSO manages to make you fall in love with the characters and cry your ass off.. It's the fucking definition of great literature, and you might have noticed that if you weren't too busy looking down your nose at the whole genre. Go get your wannabe Harold Bloom on somewhere else.

  • mswas

    @c59c69cb472a08ca7443cdb8b800d534:disqus as stated at the bottom of the review, this piece is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read. If you'd like to join in on CBR5 and write your own point of view reviews of the 52 books you read in 2013, follow the link above. You might find that the commenters on your reviews can manage to disagree without being quite so rude.

  • Monty

    well, that's fair. I guess I got a particular soft spot for Lonesome Dove, and that review struck a nerve.I'll try to play nicer with the volunteers, I guess.

  • mswas


  • Monty

    A book doesn't have to be about a struggling writer coming of age/falling in love/contemplating suicide in New York/London to be great.

  • Not great literature? Did it not win a Pulitzer? I love both the book and the 8 hour movie. I love Tommy Lee in a saddle. I love the beautiful melancholy of the story arcs (ah Gus....). Short of The Fault in Our Starts, this book made me weep like no other. Definitely on the top 10 all time list.

  • MissAmynae

    It's my #2 all-time, and one of my first "adult" reads (I was 8). I grew up on a working horse and cattle ranch, in Texas, so to my 4th-grade self, it was almost like my dad's origin story. Down to the damn water moccasins, which we had a-plenty.

    Beautiful book.

  • Quatermain

    Lonesome Dove is far and away one of my favorite westerns, both as a book and as a movie.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Great book, FANTASTIC miniseries. I could watch Tommy Lee Jones ride a horse all day (not a euphemism).

    McMurtry seems to hate having to revisit characters and gets his revenge by doing unspeakable things to them in the subsequent books.

  • QueBarbara

    Good point! Spoiler below

    I mean, Lorie marries Pea Eye? Come on!

  • Punishingly true. And yet I forced myself to read every painful word of the sequels and prequels. Which were as horrible as the original was legendary.

  • Mrs. Julien

    The whole thing is a shandeh!

  • Shonda


  • Mrs. Julien


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