Buddy Read: We read the western classic, Lonesome Dove
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
Award: Pulitzer Prize
Genre: Historical Fiction, Western
Published 1985, 945 pages (!)
Here's a quick side trip for you - take a look at McMurtry's home library and the book store he started years ago. It's impressive!
For those few people who haven’t read the book or seen the 1989 TV miniseries, Lonesome Dove is about two Texas rangers on a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. Dove is my all-time favorite miniseries and I’ve seen it several times so I was very familiar with the story but had never read the book. I’m glad Terrie and I chose it as a Buddy Read. Although long at 945 pages and filled with quite a bit of description of the land, the Indians, the weather, and the cattle, I was never bored and barely skimmed any of the book; when I did skim it was because of graphic descriptions of people or animals being hurt.
I couldn’t read this book without picturing the actors who portrayed the characters because they’re so indelibly imprinted in my mind. I love each one of them – cheerful, talkative August (Gus); serious, silent Call; strong and independent Clara; scared, loner Lori; gambler and ladies’ man Jake; sensitive Newt; hardworking and reliable Deets; July, the sheriff, who goes looking for his runaway wife, and many more. Every character is so well drawn, so vividly described and their personalities so well defined that you really care for them and feel like you know them.
“I miss Gus,” Pea Eye said. “I get to expecting to hear him talk and he ain’t here. My ears sort of get empty.”
Bored and wanting one last adventure, rangers Gus and Call round up a group to drive 3,000 cattle on a long and dangerous journey encountering Indians, intense heat, no water, lightning storms, freezing cold, a swarm of grasshoppers that smothers everything in sight, deadly water moccasins, hangings, and more.
Except for Gus, the men seem to be pretty clueless about women and many of them are downright scared of women. It seems most of their experience with women is through whores, and there’s a LOT of talk about whores! Even Call had an experience with a whore, Maggie, the mother of Newt. Call’s reflection on their relationship gave me insight into his character. Not unusual or surprising, the book provides more background of the characters than you can get from a movie, it's more in-depth about thoughts and feelings. Such as, Call thinks, “Better by far to never have known the pleasure than to have the pain that followed. Maggie had been a weak woman, and yet her weakness had all but slaughtered his strength.” There was also a section that gave background on Lorie becoming a whore that you didn’t get from the miniseries.
On the trail to Montana Gus insists upon stopping in Nebraska to see Clara, his great love. Now married and with two children, she and Gus still have great affection for each other. When the men are ready to leave and continue their journey, Clara asks Gus why he has to go to Montana. He could stay in Nebraska, there’s plenty of land to be had.
“Well, that’s where we started for,” he said. “Me and Call have always liked to get where we started for, even if it don’t make a damn bit of sense.”
Gus gives a good description of Call: “Call’s got to be the one to out-suffer everybody. I won’t say he’s a man to hunt glory like some I’ve knowed. Glory don’t interest Call. He’s just got to do his duty nine times over or he don’t sleep good.” And, again: “Call, there never was no fun around here. And besides, you never had no fun in your life. You wasn’t made for fun, that’s my department.”
One time when Newt and Deets were sharing a laugh: Deets slapped his leg and laughed, the thought was so funny. When the rest of the outfit finally wandered down from the house, they found the two of them grinning back and forth at one another. “Look at ‘em,” August said. “You’d think they just discovered teeth.”
Gus is a hoot. He drives a lot of people crazy but he’s easygoing until he needs to be hard. He likes to have a good time and be around people. Call is so opposite him that you wonder how they could be friends for 30 years. The story sort of moseys along, taking it’s time, but I never found it dull. I liked how the conversations were written – it sounded like cowboys in the olden days talking (not that I really know what that would be like but this is how I would imagine it). The story is so strong that you get the sense of that time and place and people. I loved this book as much as the miniseries and would highly recommend it, even if you don’t care for westerns.
Well, that was one hefty tome! Thank goodness neither Donna nor I are afraid of a good long book. I know I've seen the TV show years and years ago but actually have very little memory of it, so the book was a completely new experience. A LONG experience! :)
This epic novel is huge in scope and though set in Texas and definitely about cowboys and cowboy life and a little about Indians, it's primarily a character study. The two main characters being Call and Gus - one a taciturn loner and one a chatty, talk-to-anyone-about-anything guy. Total opposites and really fun to read about.
"If we shoot him [the cook], we'll have Gus for a cook," Call said. "In that case we'll have to eat talk, or else starve to death listening."
I read the first several hundred pages and told my husband, "nothing's happening yet". Read another 100 pages. Nothing yet. It's a bunch of cowboys puttering around the tiny village of Lonesome Dove, stealing cattle and horses, eating, arguing, whoring.
Finally there's a cattle drive and there's a little more action (that word being relative). It's not till the last 100 pages that there's any what I would call 'gripping' action. (I actually paused and read another quick mystery book in the middle of this one!)
"Give Call a grievance, however silly, and he would save it like money."
That being said, the dialog is truly excellent (full of personality and often humorous, sometimes insightful), the characters with all their flaws and quirks are excellent, the description of the terrain and storms and life on a small struggling ranch are excellent, and even though written by a man, the feelings and demeanor and dreams of the women characters are really strong. So, read this book for a feeling, a sense of the old west, for a peek into what the hardships were like to live then, NOT for rousing action. I'm glad to have read it and recommend it for you if you enjoy really delving into characters or reading stories that are very evocative of a time and place.
photo of cattle by Tyler Lastovich, pexels.com