I am not the speediest of readers, so it is with some trepidation that will I pick up a 900-plus page book. Especially a book that was the basis for a 1980s TV miniseries. But a friend who is an outstanding writer (of restaurant reviews) told me that Lonesome Dove was his favorite book ever, and that sort of enthusiasm always draws my interest. We had a copy sitting of Lonesome Dove in the house, but even so, it took me a couple years to actually pick up the book.
The reward was my most enjoyable reading in years. Lonesome Dove is engrossing, surprising, funny, and an unsparing dissection of the masculine mythology of the Old West. I am not a fan of Westerns—this is the first one I’ve read since I was assigned Shane in middle school—and as I began the book I had some leeriness as McMurtry introduced the cast of cowboys, a kindly prostitute who is the most notable female character in the first sections, and a vicious Cherokee outlaw named Blue Duck. Even though the prose was masterful and I was enjoying myself, I also felt the story tended toward an adolescent fantasy early on. I found myself thinking of Charlie Brown—all the characters in the same generation, with no parents above or children below.
But as the book continues and the cattle drive heads north, McMurty turns the fantasy inside out. The central romance bends in an unexpected direction, and characters’ limitations are hammered fiercely, as a story of parenthood moves to the fore.
The book is not without its limitations. But it is also, undoubtedly, time well-spent.