Have you ever given a chance to a book you’ve never heard of, in the genre you’d never consider reading, and immensely enjoying it to the point of talking to complete strangers about it? If not, you don’t know what you’re missing out, because I’ve been having a blast to finally being surprised by a book in a long while. Lonesome Dove is one of these books! I never had any desire for Westerns, neither in print nor on screen, but then the wonderful people of Goodreads decided to read this Pulitzer winner for a contemporary chunkster choice. I shrugged my shoulders and decided to join in just for giggles. Next thing I knew I was swept away by the most diverse and fleshed out cast of characters, wide range of emotions, clearly defined multiple storylines – all coming together in a powerful, to the point of heartbreaking, finale. It was a delicious book until the very last page.
The opening chapters move at a leisurely pace, which might scare a few fans of fast fiction. In fact, some people in my reading group confessed losing faith and trying to abandon the book. Let me tell you, once you hit page 100, you will be hooked! The first hundred pages are just an introduction to the ordinary life of a cowboy outfit back in the Wild West. Take this opportunity to familiarize yourself with every character, because like real people, they are unique and deserve time to get to know them. The back bones of the establishment are two former Texas Rangers: Woodrow F. Call and Augustus McCrae. Long past the days when two friends fought Indians of the southern US; today they trade horses and cattle, and fight off Mexican bandits who wish to steal their livestock. But soon the Hat Creek outfit is visited by a former friend Jake Spoon, who tells them of the wonders of Montana and the opportunities for cattle-drivers to get rich. Call and Gus round up their animals, hire some hands and embark on long journey to Montana in hopes of building a new business up north.
I love love love the Hat Creek outfit! If I was a man in the late 19th century, I would become a cowboy and join them crazy guys in a heartbeat. I admire Call’s unshakable confidence in his decisions and leadership abilities; I’m overjoyed with Gus’s humorous outlook on life and penchant for a good conversation; I find Newt’s craving to fit in inspiring and Pea Eye’s cluelessness about women cute; I feel for the Irishmen Sean and Allen who find their land of dreams to be a desert of despair; I appreciate Deets’s skill and authority in the time of strict race division; I cheer for the poor Dish whose unanswered love woes tear him apart. These are truly great characters who become your friends as you read along. You laugh with them in the times of happiness and weep uncontrollably when times are tough. And although the Hat Creek outfit is lighthearted and welcoming, the Wild West is a rough place and many sunny days turn tragic in a heartbeat, so weep you will! That is what I love about McMurtry – he makes you truly care for these people.
While there are a lot of male characters, there are several very interesting females in the book as well. One is a prostitute hoping to get away, another turns out to be a bored wife with a shady past, and the third – a home-builder with a courage and passion for life to rival any man; they are so different, but all three have incredibly independent spirits that stand out against the nineteenth’s century backdrop. However, sometimes they are so overly stubborn, it sort of plays against them. Take Laurie for example. She is told about a very dangerous bandit and slaver roaming around, but instead she refuses any of the cowboys to guard her, because she is tired of men objectifying and goggling at her. Very understandable reason, but why would you send poor love-stricken Dish Boggett away when there’s a threat of getting stolen, raped and killed by crazy maniac? All Dish can do is moon over her from a distance anyway, so why take chances? When Laurie goes through a traumatic experience (which I still blame her for), she ends up abandoning her ambitious self and turns into an overly-attached puppy. For me, Laurie starts out strong, but ends up a disappointment. But regression aside, her character development is very intriguing, even if it going in the opposite direction.
Clara, on the other hand, is coming off as a big tease, besides the fact that she is probably the most mature and experienced woman in the book. In her youth she leads two exciting men, yet marries some random boring guy – the complete opposite of her. Her point? She wants to be sure she knows where her husband is at all times. So she chooses stability over following her heart, I see. That is a strange choice, since she is dying for something exciting every day. Her husband might be at home all the time, but who knows when she might decide to run off chasing her dream? She is satisfied to know that the man she left long time ago is still in love with her after sixteen years, but that is all she wants from him. I think that Clara just wants to bask in the attention men offer her, like back in the day, so she can stand on her front porch and say, I still got it. She constantly struggles to admit to herself how torn she is between life that she has and the one that could have been. To think of it, all three women in Lonesome Dove have an interesting angle to their stories. It is as if McMurtry is trying to explore how these females would react to the opportunity to change their lives and follow their heart.
Plot-wise this is a great novel full of adventure and unpredictable twists. You’ll never know what you will find as you turn the page. What can possibly happen in 800 pages of driving cattle through a desert, you might ask. Everything from natural disasters and stampedes to deadly accidents and vicious fights with bandits – that is what. On their way the characters will grow, have their hope dashed, see their friends die, have a few laughs around the campfire, and experience completely new to them things like bears and snow. I am definitely buying a paper version of the book to put on my shelf and to take down occasionally for a scrumptious re-read. Great stuff.