Friday, March 16, 2018

unForgotten Books: LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry (1985)

No one has forgotten Lonesome Dove, and it ain’t likely anyone ever will. But I re-read (or more precisely re-listened to) it recently, and discovered a few things I'd forgotten.

Remember when there were shops specializing in renting audiobooks on cassette? Yeah, there really were such places, some twenty-odd years ago. That’s when and where I came upon a copy of the unabridged reading of this book by Lee Horsley. Yeah, I’m talking about the Archie Goodwin-Matt Houston-Guns of Paradise Lee Horsley, who I didn’t especially like on TV, but who did a masterful job with this novel. It stuck in my brain ever since as the perfect marriage of narrator to book, and I’ve been hankering for another listen ever since.

Well, I finally got one, and I’m pleased to report it’s still every bit as good as I remembered. And while Horsley’s narration makes it shine, the real star of the book is Larry McMurtry’s prose. I have to say that word-for-word, the first half of this novel is one of the most entertaining reads I’ve ever had.

Point of view shifts quickly, often from one paragraph to the next, introducing us to a huge cast of outrageously captivating characters. Each has his own cockeyed world view, and many of the lines are laugh-out-loud funny. McMurtry keeps the yuks coming through most of the first half, leaving me agog with envy.

But somewhere in the middle, things turn serious. McMurtry’s West is a grim and deadly place, and the further our cast of characters stray from Lonesome Dove, the grimmer and deadlier it gets. The new characters we meet are dumber and duller, and the older ones stop having fun. Point of view shifts much slower, and we’re stuck with dumb, dull folks for way too long. That’s when a lot of people start dying, while others are subjected to such misery they wish they could die (and I was rooting for them to hurry up and do it).

This is still a great novel, of course. There’s a reason it won a Pulitzer Prize. And while I’d like it better if the humor of the first half filled the whole book, chances are it would now be largely forgotten, rather than the cornerstone of a franchise that spawned three more novels, more TV miniseries than I can count and at least couple of regular TV series.

So I think everyone should read it. Or better yet, listen to it, if you’re lucky enough to score the Horsley version. Just don’t be surprised when it turns your smile upside down. 


Rick Robinson said...

Glad you enjoyed it. Having never read it, I took the book out of the library last Fall. I managed about 20 pages before I took it back. I just couldn't get into it at all.

Evan Lewis said...

It takes the story a long time to get going, because there are so many characters to introduce. Too bad Lee wasn't reading it to you.

Anonymous said...

Place that rent audiobooks on cassette are pretty much history, but there are still places that will rent them on CD. You can even find such in many public libraries. They are still a great way to make a long drive seem shorter.

Evan Lewis said...

My local library unloaded its books on cassette several years ago, and has all but stopped buying books on CD. They now provide most of them via by direct download via OverDrive. I'm addicted.

Cap'n Bob said...

I've never read it, heard it, or watched the TV series. I can't explain why.

Evan Lewis said...

It's because you're a curmudgeon.

Cap'n Bob said...

I think it's because I don't trust bestsellers to be any good.

Mantanhattan said...

Time for me to re-read this .
For the third time.
It had a huge impact on me both previous reads.
Great review!