One word: magnificent, November 9, 2002
Reviewer: Candace Scott (Glendora, CA USA)
I have never been a fan of the literary western genre and confess that I read this book solely because I watched the movie based upon this book. Incredibly, the book supercedes the movie and McMurtry's characterization of Woodrow and Gus are truly stunning. It's the characters that turn this book into a compelling classic, rarely does the reader encounter such deftly-drawn and intriguing men as McCall and McCrae. You feel as if you are in Lonesome Dove with these men, and with them every step of the way from Texas to Montana. It's a magnificent journey and McMurtry is a superlative writer.
Even if you've never read a western book in your life, this is a literary masterpiece, the Shakespeare of the range, so to speak.
Im not sure I can pull my thoughts and emotions together to write a full-fledged review for this book. LONESOME DOVE was a book that came onto my radar because it is one of my colleagues favorite books ever. He recommends it to every one of our students, he donated two copies to my companys library, he borrows those very two copies that he donated every few months to pass around to friends. Finally I happened upon an ex-library copy at a book sale and decided that itd probably be worth at least two dollars to check it out. I wasnt expecting the invaluable find of one of the best books Ive ever read, a stunning achievement of characterization set in the Old Wild West.
LONESOME DOVEs strength lies in how effortlessly Larry McMurtry conjures up a varied cast of characters. Easily a dozen characters take turns narrating over 900+ pages, and some of these characters really pissed me off with how slow/idiotic/selfish they acted. And I loved all the emotions that McMurtry was able to stir up in me. Spending time with childish Jake Spoon, depressed and selfish Elmira, damaged Lorena, and others made me realize how little I read from the points of view of characters I dont like, and how valuable it can be.
Oh, dont worry: there arent only despicable characters in this book. But no one is perfect, and theres not necessarily one protagonist to cheer on the whole way through. McMurtry breaks your heart by letting bad things befall good characters, or not letting bad characters receive their comeuppance. In the end, however, you understand why people are willing to follow Gus and Call in their endeavors: the two of them, so different in personality, are impressive leaders in action.
Most of us have seen a scene or two of the Wild Wild West, but Larry McMurtry really makes readers live it. McMurtrys Old Wild Wests main feature is the variety of rough characters one comes across on the road or in saloons, whores and gamblers and trigger-happy cowboys. A writer can write as much as he or she wants on the setting, but it is the people in LONESOME DOVE that really make you feel the dust between your teeth, snowblindness in your eyes, wet boots and socks through powerful Midwestern storms.
The characters in LONESOME DOVE are so strong that Im almost reluctant to say anything critical about the book, because I can forgive just about everything in light of such splendid characterization. But if I had to make criticisms about the book, two things come to mind. The more minor one is how incomplete the ending felt. It seemed almost like McMurtry was writing along, and then, around the 900-page mark, got bored with his story, while at the same time also realizing how successful it could be, and thus raced through the end, slapped on a few satisfying conclusions but also left a lot of things frustratingly open for a sequel.
A more major concern I had was its treatment of POC characters. All the American Indians that appear in this book are heartless, cold-blooded murderers; Deets, the sole black man of the Lonesome Dove outfit, is wise, knowledgeable, and dutiful, one-with-the-earth in a prophetic way. I get it that the nineteenth-century American West was not the most non-racist period in American history, and while I felt that the characters behaved synchronously with their time, I was disappointed that a twentieth-century author couldnt do better than rely on stereotypes for creating his POC characters.
Despite those quibbles, however, I still wholeheartedly recommend this book. LONESOME DOVE is an epic read that will easily be, if not the greatest book youve ever read in your life, then at least the best Western youll ever read in your life.
Of McMurtry's many outstanding literary achievements, "Lonesome Dove" has to stand at the top. (LD was a Pulitzer Prize winner.) Rare is the story that can blend period authenticity with fictional characters and provide a larger-than-life tale that encompasses the old West so perfectly. You'll laugh, you'll cry - you'll even fall in love with the villains! A once in a lifetime read - not to be missed!