Name: Lonesome Dove
Author: Larry McMurtry
Number of Pages: 964 (Kindle)
Published: Pan (first published 1985)
Genre: Historical, Western
A love story, an adventure, and an epic of the frontier, Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize— winning classic, Lonesome Dove, the third book in the Lonesome Dove tetralogy, is the grandest novel ever written about the last defiant wilderness of America. Journey to the dusty little Texas town of Lonesome Dove and meet an unforgettable assortment of heroes and outlaws, whores and ladies, Indians and settlers. Richly authentic, beautifully written, always dramatic, Lonesome Dove is a book to make us laugh, weep, dream, and remember.
Lonesome Dove is a real sprawling epic of a saga. For the first 100 or so pages we meet the members of the Hat Creek Cattle Company in their day to day life – occasionally rustling cattle from across the border, working hard (Call), or relaxing and drinking (Gus), and whiling away the days.
Also part of the company are Pea Eye, who has accompanied the Rangers on their many adventures, Deets, an excellent tracker, and Newt, a young man who may have a family connection to one of the men.
Then comes Jake Spoon, a former member of the group with stories of fortunes to be made in Montana and so the idea to gather a cattle herd and drive it north becomes more than an idle dream.
I laughed several times observing the daily routine of this group, from Bolivar the cook and his constant clanging of the dinner bell to announce dinner, to Gus and his wit in creating the company sign, which becomes something of a massive undertaking as the wording has to be just perfect. The characters are so well written they’re almost real which is great as we’re so long in their company.
Gus, his laidback ways belying a steady dependable man when trouble arises, quickly became a favourite and remained so throughout, and I couldn’t wait to get back to chapters featuring him. He’s brave, riding into trouble when the odds are vastly against him.
In complete contrast is Woodrow Call, his long time friend and fellow Ranger, just as capable and ready to face challenges and hard work, but distant, brooding and unknowable. He’s introverted and a great foil to Gus and his theatrics. They balance each other really well. I’d love to read of their earlier days together in the Rangers.
A varied cast of supporting characters added to the central narrative of the vast trek across the country, and of course provided many dramatic moments as during such a long and dangerous journey I don’t think it’s spoiling anything to say that not all of them make it to Montana.
There’s July Johnson, a sheriff tasked with bringing Jake Spoon to justice over a crime committed in his town, but July’s problems escalate when he finds out his restless wife Elmira left town around the same time he did, and he decides to try and find her instead. Roscoe, July’s deputy, becomes involved, venturing out to search for July and ending up with more than he bargained for along the way. He’s a man ill-suited to trekking across the wilds, but a girl called Janey helps him.
And Jake Spoon, the cause of so many problems. For the heroics and admirable qualities of Gus, Call and others, there’s Jake, the absolute opposite. I can’t say I liked Jake but he certainly drove the story. His initial idea sets the company off on their travels, and drags a young woman called Lorena into things, before he abandons her in dire circumstances to go off gambling. He has little interest in Lorena or the cattle drive. His further adventures guarantee his eventual fate, but I won’t say more and spoil the story.
There are two women who feature prominently, mostly in Augustus’s life. Clara is the woman that Gus imagined he would marry, the one that got away, and part of the reason he decides to accompany Call on the journey. He wants to see Clara again even though they’ve been apart for many years and Clara is married with a family.
Lorena is the young woman who longs to escape her life in Lonesome Dove and dreams of going to San Francisco. She is encouraged to leave Lonesome Dove with the group, but once Jake abandons her Augustus takes a more prominent role in her life.
There are a host of other characters too – mean-spirited soldiers, one of whom excites Call’s rage to great extremes, cruel gangs intent on murder for no reason, rough but sometimes kind buffalo hunters, the fearsome Blue Duck, two different camp cooks, both with their own eccentricities. Then there are the cowboys of the Hat Creek outfit, along for the trip, drawn together from different backgrounds, united in their aims to undertake this massive trek.
Through hailstorms, dust clouds, a plague of grasshoppers, encounters with grizzly bears, searing heat and endless wilderness, desolate places and many extremes, I journeyed with these characters and shared their joys and despairs. Lonesome Dove is long, so long that at times I almost felt as if I actually was experiencing it all in real time. It’s also not a fast paced novel, meandering at a leisurely pace, but even though it took me a long time to read I was sad to finally reach the end and leave these characters behind.
I would have liked more closure for certain characters. There were so many things I was left wondering about regarding Newt, Lorena, Clara and Call. I know there’s a sequel so perhaps some of these questions will be answered but having spent so long with the characters I would have loved to see their eventual endings in this tome. Despite this I enjoyed the time spent reading Lonesome Dove and would recommend it to anyone looking for a character-driven epic journey of a read.