Every Texan celebrated the sudden appearance of Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry‘s frontier masterpiece. One colleague told me it was the only western for people with Ph.D.s, but that doesn’t really do it justice. I would say it is the best western for anyone. No, one of the best novels of any time, for me and for anyone. Why do I like it so much?
I like the vivid Texas landscape. I may not have been in Lonesome Dove, or watched pigs kill rattlesnakes, but I can feel the heat of the town, perhaps also adorned with the kinds of wasps I once collected in south Texas. The environment stays stark throughout the book, as the characters move through the landscape, invariably too hot or freezing cold.
It is the characters more than anything that make this a special book. They are not all good or all bad. They do not relate to each other the same way all the time. McMurtry gets in the head of all of them, one at a time, but it doesn’t get confusing. These are people that are not too quick to judge each other, unless they’ve stolen a horse. Others may disagree, but I don’t really have a problem with the way McMurtry portrays women. Well, you can see I’m no literary critic, so you’ll just have to go read the book!
Variation is one of the puzzles of evolution. Isn’t there a best trait that should sweep through a population? Well, apparently not, particularly for traits that change their value depending on their frequency. So that, I suppose, is why there are so many different personalities, in life and in Lonesome Dove.
Things happen to us and they change us. In many respects how we respond to what happens is what separates the great from the cowardly. Things certainly happen to the characters in Lonesome Dove, too. The main narrative is a cattle drive up to Montana. I like that better as a main theme than the killer hunting that dominates the sequel, Streets of Laredo, which I just finished. I’m saving the two prequels for later.
I’ve started watching the miniseries based on the book. No matter how good it is, it could not get the heat under your skin the way the book does. But I didn’t actually read it. I listened to it on Audible, perfectly read by Lee Horsley. Not too far into it I realized I had it set on 1.25 speed and slowed it down so it would last. And last it did, all through hikes and runs in Santa Barbara. If reading penetrates more than any cinema could do, I think listening penetrates the most.
Before Lonesome Dove, I listened to Joyce’s Ulysses. Before that Faulkner‘s Absalom, Absalom. I’m taking a break from big literature with Rubén Martinez‘s Cruzando la Frontera and then plan to find Nabokov‘s Pale Fire. If only I had a longer walk to work, for more listening time!