McMurtry is a writer's writer. He writes because he loves to write,
and it shows in his wide body of work. Unlike F. Scott Fitzgerald, who
wrote for "fame, fortune, and the love of beautiful women," McMurtry writes for
himself. When he produces something that he feels is good enough to
release, out pops another book in the inimitable McMurtry
style. His work, Lonesome Dove,
is a classic example of a Western with strong literary overtones, setting it apart from most other Westerns ever written.
in Wichita Falls, Texas, on June 3, 1936, McMurtry's early novels were all set in the Southwest,
on the frontier, and in small towns. They included Horseman, Pass By (1961), and The Last Picture Show (1966),
the latter of which were made
Coming from a long line of Texas ranchers, McMurtry
realized early in life that he didn't like working on a ranch. He
said, "I saw right away that my father and all the cowboys were slaves to
these stupid animals. Who wants to be a slave to a cow?"
He never thought cowboys were romantic figures. He
thought they led mostly drab, repetitive, unexciting lives and weren't
necessarily strong or free. Many of them were twisted, fascistic, and
In 1981, McMurtry wrote an essay in The Texas Observer in which he
said that "the cowboy myth" had become "an inhibiting, rather than a
creative, factor in our literary life," and that "there was really no more
that needed to be said about it." A few years later he published one
of his best books, Lonesome Dove (1985), a historical novel about a
cattle drive, and won a
Pulitzer Prize for it.
Lonesome Dove is the tale of the last days when cowboys drove cattle over
long distances. Two former lawmen, Augustus McCrae and W. F. Call,
make their living by crossing the border into Mexico to steal horses and
cattle, something they've done for nearly 15 years. One day another old Texas Ranger friend rides into
the town of Lonesome Dove (he's eluding the law for having killed a man in Arkansas) and
suggests that together they drive a herd of cattle to unsettled Montana. From there
on out, the
fun begins as McMurtry paints a reflective picture of the
American western frontier in the 1870s.
Along the way, the
author unveils pioneers, river boat men,
gamblers, murderous Indians, buffalo hunters, scouts, cavalrymen, and
prostitutes. His reader crosses open plains, cow towns, and the Nueces, the Platte,
and the Yellowstone rivers. He sets horses to easy lopes, eats cook's food,
experiences stampedes, slugs it out in gunfights, witnesses hangings, and
runs from the law. During all
of these once-common activities, McMurtry unfolds hundreds of tales, subplots, and violent and heroic scenes
that keep the reader glued to the saddle. Lonesome Dove is the quintessential
western and the Great American Cowboy story.
Larry McMurtry has been writing prequels and sequels to Lonesome Dove--cashing
in on its popularity--for years.
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