Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Author: Larry McMurtry
Originally Published: 1985
Length: 880 pages
Award(s):  Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Challenge: Readalong hosted by Amused by Books, My Friend Amy, and Gerbera Daisy Diaries

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4/5

"If you want one thing too much it’s likely to be a disappointment. The healthy way is to learn to like the everyday things, like soft beds and buttermilk—and feisty gentlemen."

It's a time when a man's trip to the whorehouse is as customary as a quick trip through a McDonald's drive-thru, and stealing horses from the country next door is all in a day's work. It's the 1870's, in the town of Lonesome Dove, where former Texas Rangers--the cerebral Gus McCrae and the workaholic Woodrow Call--own the Hat Creek Cattle Company.  When fellow Texas Ranger Jake Spoon returns escaping trouble, his descriptions of Montana lead Call and his crew to drive a herd of cattle north with the aim of starting a ranch there.  What follows is a journey of epic proportions, filled with light-hearted humor,  devastating tragedy, and heart-pounding adventure.  No wonder they made a miniseries out of it.

Speaking of epics, it was interesting reading this at the same time as The Odyssey, in which Odysseus' (supposed) main goal throughout his journey is to return to his home, wife and son.  Despite the many obstacles thrown into his path, he returns home and all is well.  In Lonesome Dove, however, many of men seem to be grasping for some sort of domestic happiness (sometimes subconsciously), but it remains stubbornly elusive (or stubbornly shunned, as in Call's refusal to openly acknowledge Newt as his son).  The connections they long for never really connect.  Even the two main female characters, Lorena and Clara, who seem to have a little hope of living life on their own terms settled in one place, are both left with an empty longing and regret for opportunities missed with those they loved.

McMurtry refreshingly defies the concept of the "love triangle." He creates instead a web of relationships, often with the "sporting woman," Lorena, in the center.   "Relationships" is actually a generous word choice--the men in the story tend look upon the women in terms of what pleasure or function can be derived from them, rather than as human beings with needs and thoughts of their own.  Gus is the only one who attempts to reach beyond this attitude, but in one instance, thinks he can buy this with money.  But his attempts at the very least  make him the most endearing character, and I'm sure many a reader has a bit of a crush and perhaps a daydream of a cozy evening with him in the tent (minus the dirt, of course).   Rather than a typical romance, the general theme seems to be men chasing after women who don't want them, women trying to break free from the boundaries imposed upon them, and all of them just trying make it through the latest hail storm or grasshopper deluge on the way to Montana. 

During most of the end of the book, I had this song stuck in my head often.  In my head I was hearing The Rolling Stones, but found this cool Glee version:

The chorus of the song sums up the constant message I got from the book:  there are things we will always want or long for that we will never get.   But life goes on, and we somehow get what we need and make it through each day.  And it doesn't hurt when someone like Gus McCrae has got your back.


  1. I read this recently and I loved it. I know what you mean about the women, they all seem to be chased by men they really dont want chasing them. I have to admit that I groaned when Lorena was introduced as I just thought 'why is every women in these things a tart with a heart?' but then other different women were introduced which balanced it out.

  2. That song reminds me of the TV series House, it’s on the soundtrack. Sounds like a very… “manly “ book.

  3. I love that you call it your "Personal Enjoyment Factor". That's perfect! Whenever I review a book I feel like it's only fair that people understand I'm rating it on my enjoyment, not its literary brilliance. That's a great way to phrase it.
    p.s. I liked this book too.

  4. Wasn't this amazing??!! I have the miniseries to watch over the holiday break! It took me awhile to leave the men and women (or what is left of them) behind and move onto another book. I

  5. I think it's funny that I've never read the book or seen the miniseries. I have a feeling I should, I've just never done it. Glad you liked this one! Maybe a positive review is just what I need to inch closer to reading it.

  6. Jessica,
    It made the strong men seem so much more vulnerable chasing after the women. It was almost pathetic.

    I kept thinking while I was reading it that it is a "guy" book, but I know many women who love it as well. It has something for everyone, I guess.

    Avid Reader,
    "Personal Enjoyment Factor" was just the best way to describe my ratings. I can highly enjoy an imperfect book, and vice versa.

    Gerbera Daisy Mom,
    I loved this readalong and the way y'all set it up. I'm going to try to watch the miniseries soon too. I just don't know what to expect--I hope it's not cheesy at all!

    It's taken me a while to get to it too. It's the only Western I've ever read, and I actually started it once and then lost interest. It was really good, after all!

  7. I loved Lonesome Dove, partly, I'm sure, because my father was a cowboy when they were still around in the Midwest. I have Comanche Moon waiting to be read, out of order I know, but you have to be in a certain mood to go western. Maybe not in January in Illinois? :)