Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty: Book Review

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Cover of Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

4.5 Stars

Captains Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call have retired from active duty in the Texas Rangers and tried to settle in to life as ranchers. When an old buddy shows up talking about how beautiful Montana is and how much land is available for ranching, Captain Call is seized with the idea of being the first man to drive cattle up there. He gathers a crew and, along with Gus and a handful of loyal workers, takes off to cover the 3000 miles to Montana.

I was blown away by how much I enjoyed this western. I’ve read a few of them, and even a few of McMurtry’s other novels, but I didn’t love any of them the way I loved this.

It was just so epic in scale, it gave me a sense of how the “frontier” must have felt back in the day. And yet all these people wandered in and out of each other’s lives in a way that is almost unbelievable. In a way it makes sense–there weren’t many people, so surely they would all know each other–but the sheer distance makes it feel improbable. I guess I’ll never know. It does make for good storytelling.

The story switches back and forth between a lot of characters, which is occasionally a turnoff for me. It mostly worked in this book though. I never cared about Elmira one bit and couldn’t wait to move on when I got to her sections, but even she served a purpose in the big scheme of things. I never had any trouble keeping track of who was who. Each character was so distinct that there was no danger of confusing anyone.

Gus was hands-down my favorite character. I’ll probably write a blog post about him alone one of these days. He had a good heart, he knew how to have fun, he mostly understood people, but when it was time to get serious, he got deadly serious. He won my heart when he went after Lorie.

Speaking of Lorie…I liked her and Clara. A lot. It would have been easy to let them just fade into the background and be the silent, supportive women who were barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, but they had spunk. Clara especially.

It fell apart for me right around the end, which is a problem I remember having with all of McMurtry’s books. He and I do not see eye-to-eye on what makes a good ending. I finished watching the mini-series from the ’80s last night and I realized that our problem just might be that we disagree on what the story is about. I loved Gus and wanted a book about him. I think it was supposed to be more about Captain Call. And in that frame, the ending makes sense. But I’m still not happy about it.

I highly, highly recommend this for anyone who likes fiction on an epic scale and characters who climb inside your head and live there for a while.

Read an excerpt.

Buy Lonesome Dove at

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