by Larry McMurtry

August 20, 2013

I finished Lonesome Dove this weekend, and it may be the first Western I’ve ever read. I have a vague recollection of Little Britches as a kid, and I vaguely recollect that it would count as a Western. I’ve heard of Louis L’amour. Westerns aren’t my go-to genre.

My favorite Cultivator of Local Relationships and Good Will (may not be his actual title) at my favorite coffee shop had recommended Lonesome Dove to me. He’s a thoughtful, likeable guy, and we can only have so many conversations deconstructing Mad Men and Josh Hamilton, so I thought I’d give it a go. Also, Amazon put the Kindle version on sale for $2.99 a few months after he first recommended it, so there was that.

I knew this book would be an investment based on it’s heft. By heft, I don’t mean it’s weight – this was an ebook. No, heft in the Kindle world is recognized by a 5 digit location status, and Lonesome Dove weighs in above 15000, or 896 pages. I’m not scared of long books, but since I usually only read fiction as I wrap up the day in bed, it’s not uncommon for me to fall asleep after 2-3 pages. You know, about 30 locations. I was in for a journey. He recommended the book two years ago, and I’ve just finished. There’s been lots of Mad Men talk and Josh Hamilton has jumped from his favorite team to mine in the meantime.

I can summarize three typical experiences I have with fiction:

  1. There’s the kind of fiction where I never come to care about the characters, and concern for what happens to them is absent. These are the kind I often give up on, unless the storyline has some degree of intrigue. Or because of that self imposed guilt I have for not finishing something I’ve already invested so much time in. The Robert Langdon books, by Dan Brown, fit this category, and I’ve read each of them. I usually feel empty after reading such books, which leads to an unhealthy need for my children to express their love and admiration for me.
  2. There’s the kind of fiction where I not only care about the characters, but feel like I know them. Usually, that means I root for them, even the bad ones. When I finish a book like this, I feel like I just ended a long journey with a troupe of friends, and wrapping up the last page is like getting dropped off at my front door after a rich road trip. When the characters seem real, I can stay connected to just about any story.
  3. Then, there’s this third, and rare, kind of fiction. Not only do I care about the characters, but I start to see myself in them. Or maybe through them. When all is said and done, I’m not only evaluating their lives, but my life as well. I compare their foibles to my own, and I end up wanting to be someone more. Lonesome Dove left me feeling this way, except for the sleeping on the ground part.

So maybe you would enjoy Lonesome Dove too. It’s a Western, sure. But it’s an epic, co-mingling of broken lives making sense of love and loss in a way that you can see yourself in. And it won the Pulitzer, so…

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