Lonesome Dove

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 581

After writing for more than twenty years about the modern West, Larry McMurtry has written in LONESOME DOVE an epic novel about its frontier heritage. Though full of action (including rustling raids, lynchings, lightning and hail storms, river crossings, a locust plague, stampedes, outlaws, and Indian fights), LONESOME DOVE is essentially a novel of character. Its main protagonists are Augustus McCrae (Gus) and Woodrow F. Call, veteran Texas Rangers, who own a cattle company in the town of Lonesome Dove. Gus is easygoing, humorous, a compulsive talker, while Call is a laconic loner and workaholic. When a third former Ranger, Jake Spoon, turns up telling of wonderful country in Montana to be had for the taking, Call determines to be the first cattleman to settle there.

Practically all of Call’s cowboys are in love with Lorena Wood, the local prostitute, who does not care for any of them. Yet Jake Spoon is irresistible to women, and when he appears, Lorena insists on accompanying him to Montana.

A number of other characters become involved with the cattle drive. July Johnson, a sheriff from Arkansas, goes after Jake, who killed his brother, but shifts his quest to pursue his runaway wife. July’s incompetent deputy follows him, only to run into a series of disasters. Jake falls in with the murderous Suggs brothers. Lorena is abducted by the Comanchero Blue Duck, a cold-blooded killer, from whom Gus rescues her. Lorena falls in love with Gus, but he is still carrying a torch for Clara, whom he courted sixteen years earlier.

The trek is tragic for the main characters. Some die violently, others endure painful initiations, and all experience loss or disillusionment. Yet the novel is full of vitality. McMurtry re-creates the West of the 1800’s with remarkable authenticity, and he offsets the violence with a considerable amount of humor. LONESOME DOVE is a wholly satisfying novel.

Bibliography

Busby, Mark and Tom Pilkington. Larry McMurtry and the West: An Ambivalent Relationship. Denton, Tex.: University of North Texas Press, 1995. Offers a comprehensive overview of McMurtry’s fiction, including a chapter devoted to Lonesome Dove. Also includes bibliographical references and an index.

Cawelti, John G. “What Rough Beast—New Westerns?” ANQ 9 (Summer, 1996): 4-15. Cawelti addresses the revival of the Western in print, film, and on television. He notes that the new genre reflects the loss of the mythic West of the past and shows how the contemporary Western, instead of glorifying the American spirit, now criticizes America’s shortcomings. Offers a brief assessment of Lonesome Dove from a mythic point of view.

Mogen, David. “Sex and True West in McMurtry’s Fiction: From Teddy Blue to Lonesome Dove to Texasville.” Southwestern American Literature 14 (1989): 34-45. Traces the sources of Lonesome Dove, particularly Teddy Blue’s account of an old-time cattle drive. Mogen also relates the book to the rest of McMurtry’s work.

Reynolds, Clay, ed. Taking Stock: A Larry McMurtry Casebook. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1989. An exhaustive survey of McMurtry’s career up to 1989. Contains a section featuring several essays on Lonesome Dove.

Thorburn, David. “Interpretation and Judgment: A Reading of Lonesome Dove.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 10 (June, 1993): 113-127. Comparing and contrasting McMurtry’s novel and the TV miniseries which was based on it, Thorburn argues that media texts, like literary works, can be critiqued and interpreted according to the criteria of “formal mastery” and “intellectual coherence.” He also asserts that critics’ reluctance to engage in comparative evaluation of non-canonical works impoverishes scholarship.

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