Reviewed by Ambrea
Woodrow Call and August “Gus” McCrae are former Rangers turned cattlemen. They spend their days in the dusty, dry little town of Lonesome Dove, struggling to make a living with the help of Joshua Deets, Pea Eye, and Newt Dobbs. But when old Ranger buddy—and general troublemaker—Jake Spoon shows up and convinces Call of the great opportunities that await them in Montana, he spurs a journey that is truly epic in scope. With their horses turned north and a few thousand head of cattle at their back, Call and Gus are set on settling in the furthest reaches of Montana—and they’ll encounter some of the deadliest foes in the West to get there.
I read Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry as part of the Great American Novel Book Club (which meets on the final Friday of the month at 6:30 p.m.). Honestly, I was a little hesitant to tackle McMurtry’s classic western at first. The book is huge in every sense of the word—I think my particular copy weighed in at over 900 pages—and it’s dense. Just the sheer size of it was daunting, but knowing it carried so many stories and covered so much distance, it felt overwhelming.
But I can honestly say I’m glad I read it.
Lonesome Dove is one of those rare books that pulls me in and doesn’t let me go. The characters are well developed, the language is honest and raw and captivating, and the stories are absolutely fascinating. While I would find my attention wavering from chapter to chapter—I constantly wanted to learn more about Call and Gus, when it switched to different characters, and then I wanted to hear about the fate of other characters, like Roscoe, Janey, and July Jones, when it finally switched back to Call and Gus. I was never quite satisfied—I truly enjoyed reading Lonesome Dove.
In many ways, it’s a beautiful story. It offers a glimpse into the rugged, wild landscape of the west; it takes on difficult topics and it shows the best and worst sides of life; it shows human suffering, but also triumph; it’s about survival, adventure, love and life—and yet it features human failure and tragedy, too. It’s complex and heart-wrenching and exhilarating. Lonesome Dove, even when it breaks your heart, is truly captivating.
However, I will note that Lonesome Dove is also intensely violent and, when it comes to traumatizing readers, entirely unrepentant. People die in horribly gruesome ways, especially when Blue Duck is involved, and I’ll admit I had a difficult time getting past a certain chapter after one of my favorite characters was killed. If you do undertake Lonesome Dove, I recommend focusing on the good things—like Deets being such a wonderful person and friend; the good humor and determination of Clara, and the birth of Martin; Newt’s growing independence and skill as a cattleman; the loyalty and friendship of Call and Gus.
These things will help you make it through the darkest moments.