Monday, June 10, 2013

Boone's Lick by Larry McMurtry

Reviewed by Nancy

No one writes about the West like Larry McMurtry. Please do not mistake me. The novel Boone’s Lick is not a Western in the traditional sense. This is not a cardboard epic of cattle drives, old time bank robberies, good guys in white hats, and bad guys in black hats with a lot of fancy horse riding and pistol twirling thrown in.

I don’t know what the frontier was like in the 1860’s, but I think Larry McMurtry’s take on things is a lot of fun. A native Texan, he grew up listening to tales of the old west as told by his father and uncles who were ranchers. It seems possible this has given him insights as to what it was really like. Boone’s Lick is set in the hungry years immediately following the Civil War, and relates the adventures of the Cecil family as told by Shay Cecil, son of Mary Margaret and Dick Cecil, and nephew of Seth Cecil.

The action in the narrative is centered on a journey undertaken by most of the Cecil clan. Dick Cecil has fallen into the habit of working in the Western Territories and only returning home every year or so to visit  Boone’s Lick, Missouri, where his wife and children live with his brother, Seth.

After sixteen years his wife, Mary Margaret, tires of this arrangement. She announces to the family that they are embarking on a journey to find their father.  They tie everything they can use onto the wagon, harness the mules and set off. Of course, when they set out they are not sure exactly where they are going, as they are not sure exactly where Dick Cecil is. That turns out to be Wyoming, probably a thousand miles from Boone’s Lick, Missouri.

Furthermore, Mary Margaret is the only member of the group who knows exactly why they are going. Is the purpose of this journey to reunite husband and family, or hmmmmm… something else?

The band of travelers includes Mary Margaret, Uncle Seth, Shay, Shay’s siblings G.T. and Neva, Granpa Crackenthorpe, and Mary Margaret’s half sister, Rose. On the first day of the journey the group encounters an Indian named Charlie Seven Days who is traveling in the same direction as they are.  He joins the group to function as a guide. Also on the first day they encounter a barefoot French priest, Pere Villy. Traveling barefoot, Pere Villy has just stepped on tacks scattered in the road by some thoughtless unknown individual. He accepts a ride on the wagon, and guess what? He joins the group, too.

There are many adventures along the way as the Cecil clan journeys up river by boat and then west by wagon. This is definitely a novel worth reading. There is an appearance early in the narrative by Wild Bill Hickok, and a gun battle you will remember not for its bloody fierceness, but more for its hilarity.

Please, please, please, if you’ve got the time, and even if you think you don’t give a fig about reading about the West in 1860, read this book. Give McMurtry a chance.

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