Lonesome Dove is an engulfing western tale about more than just a cattle drive to Montana, which is one of the driving forces for the plot, by the way, but it is really about loneliness and regret. Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae are two retired Texas Rangers that take the advice their old rangering buddy, Jake Spoon, tells them of the riches they could make as the first cattle ranchers in Montana, which is only three thousand miles away from their small ranch in Texas. Captain Call, as they call him, decides to take Jake's advice and amasses a three thousand-headed herd of cattle and horses and a dozen or so green cowboys, and, along with the non-stop communicator Gus, they all make their way across almost three thousand miles of a mostly unsettled and completely wild frontier. None of the men had previously been that far north and none knew of the dangers that were waiting for them.
From snakes and lightning to Indians and stampedes the group discovers a plethora of life-threatening opportunities on their path to Montana. Jake Spoon takes up with a whore from Lonesome Dove named Lorena who pays a heavy price for her fare across the desert wastelands to somewhere better. Along with such environmental hazards, we soon find that Jake Spoon is being tracked by a lawman from Arkansas named July Johnson, who has his own demons to contend with. Namely, his wife Elmira, who decides to seek out an old flame while July is gone with her son, Joe, tracking down the outlaw with a utensil for a last name. Unfortunately, July's story is not riddled with the kind of success and glory he was after. This book is filled with surprises that challenge the expectations of the reader as well as the characters within it. Failed expectations all around.
I love the writing style in this book. The narrator speaks in a way that exudes period-specific authenticity and it is if they are the best storyteller in the old west. The narrator is smart and witty. They really pay attention to what's important in the world and tells the story as if they really care about the characters. The narrator knows the characters' histories, thoughts, and feelings and represents them in a way that straddles the line between intimate and detached. The inner turmoil that accompanies the human condition, especially the harsh life one would experience in the 19th century American West is displayed with vivid exposition.
Over the course of the book, the main characters are methodically massaged into existence and soon they are as real as your closest friends. The dialogue also seems very authentic and captures a time when people spoke plainly but not without style. Augustus McCrae is well known to be quite the talker and to those that enjoy conversation, a cattle drive can be a lonesome place indeed. Many westerns focus on quickdraw duels, bad guys in black hats and small-town life but not this book. This book is about humanity and all the good and bad that comes with it. It's about the relationships we choose and the relationships we don't. It's about the decisions we're forced to make and the times we decide not to make one.
I enjoyed reading this book very much and plan to read more in the series. There are three more books and I am sure they are just as enthralling. The mini-series, by the same name, starring Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, and Danny Glover is a great representation of the book and makes a good supplement after reading the book. It isn't often that I get so wrapped up into a book that I can make it through over 800 pages and wish there was more. Since there are more I have to decide whether I want to make the commitment back into the world Larry McMurtry has created. A world so rich with detail that it can take a little out of you just imagining it. I recommend this book.