For the second installment of “Pin Reads: Books We Forgot We Loved,” we tackled Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry. The New York Times called it “The Great Cowboy Novel,” and it won a Pulitzer for fiction in 1986. Nicole Cliffe, of the excellent Lazy Book Reviews, joined us to discuss.
Nicole Cliffe: Let's talk SWEEPING WESTERN NOVELS. First, I absolutely looooooved this book.
Edith Zimmerman: [makes desert vulture crow noise] ME TOO.
Matt Gallaway: We’re unanimous! Okay, to start, I read the book as a screed (in a good way) against conformity.
NC: Yes! With those tiny shout-outs to his background among doctors and lawyers and conventional life. Just the whole "ugh, we're ultimately doing all of this for bankers."
MG: Also, there used to be a place where the freaks/misfits could escape, but not anymore. You see the end of so many great characters, not only the cowboys but also the whores.
NC: I absolutely loved the whores. I kept saying to myself “look, they're not bullshit hearts-of-gold creatures,” and kept being terrified that he would suddenly start to do that, which never happened.
EZ: Everyone was fucked up!
MG: There’s also a pervasive pessimism about life in this book, all the people who say things like “I'm happy but life is sad.”
NC: Yes, so enjoy the cotton-tick mattresses when you find them…but it did take me a hundred pages to deal with calling penises “carrots.”
EZ: Every time I kept envisioning a penis that tapered down to a point : (
MG: Let’s talk about the women in this book: did you read anything into for example the name HELL BITCH?
NC: As someone who owns a mare, mares are total bitches. People who prefer mares, like myself, only do it for Call's reasons. They're smarter, across the board, and crafty. (Also, the horse stuff is uniformly good in this book, especially Newt and Mouse.)
EZ: Being female is bleak as SHIT!
NC: And this idea that no matter how hardnosed and driven you are, if you want the wrong things, you're screwed.
EZ: All kinds of women meet all kinds of terrible ends.
NC: Like Elmira going after Dee.
MG: Also, the married/conventional women are all scolds and nags. Let's not forget how Clara's husband ended up!
NC: She should have put a pillow over his face months ago.
EZ: It's easy to say you'd smother someone to death, Nicole, but when you're about to do it maybe it's not so easy. Or maybe it is. I'll have to check it out.
NC: One thing that did bother me (WEEP) is how Lorie is decimated, put back together by Gus, and becomes completely dependent basically forever … I liked “Lorena” as a name, also. And I kept picturing her as Winona on “Justified.”
EZ: If I had to pick, part of me would want to be Lorie because she's so prettyyy. I also love how McMurtry doesn't describe anyone too specifically, so you grow these visions of the characters in your head…did you guys cry a lot reading this book?
NC: For some reason, I could not handle Zwey looking after Elmira, and cried constantly.
MG: One of the saddest scenes to me was when Janey and Rosco were killed — I loved Janey.
EZ: You guys I just thought about Deets and my heart actually ached…ahhhhh.
NC: I loved him and everything, too, but he did have MAGICAL NEGRO written all over him, which I had a problem with…WHAT is the name of the woman Roscoe sleeps with? The farmer?
MG: Louisa, who fucks him?
NC: I LOVED how random that was.
EZ: I KNOW, how she squats over him or something?
NC: With “Ed” the rattlesnake nearby.
MG: And the chickens watching.
NC: Roscoe made a bad call, there. He should have stayed, instead of getting castrated by Blue Duck….BLUE DUCK, guys!!! AHHH!
EZ: WTF is wrong with Blue Duck, like, WTF? In many ways he was the only true cartoon character, and I kind of wish McMurtry got into his head somehow, but he stayed so far outside of it, it was almost like he was scared of him, too.
NC: I was sort of like, “ohhhh, God, some character needs to say something about, you know, Native Americans being here first AT SOME POINT.” And then it was eventually Call, I think, eight hundred pages in?
[Redacted conversation about Blood Meridian and violence and the time Nicole was riding and a rattlesnake fake-struck at her leg, giving her this “you dumb bitch from the city” face, which here is our PSA of this edition of Pinreads, courtesy of Nicole: DO NOT WEAR YOUR NOISE-CANCELING HEADPHONES ON THE TRAIL. Also, water moccasins!]
EZ: I wish there were ways we could test men these days. Like I could marry and procreate with someone who, when you get right down to it, wouldn't be able to ____ or ____ (or whatever, I can't think of an actual example), or who'd be too frightened to ___, but I'd never know it because we live now and not then.
NC: It also seems like you could just kill your wife, and then go become a cook, or whatever. Like, backsies! It didn't have to become a huge complicated messy thing.
MG: What did she do anyway that made her husband so mad?
NC: She just nagged, possibly? But he did seem PISSED, so maybe she cheated.
EZ: I just looked up to see if there's a Lonesome Dove cookbook, and there isn't, just fyi.
MG: Edith asked a great question last time we did this, which was who would you sleep with from the book?
EZ: Baaasically everyone… Blue Duck!!!!! Jk…but not…but i'd be curious… mostly I think Gus.
NC: Jake ... But I would hate myself. Blue Duck would be that Rhett-Butler-gets-mad-at-Scarlett-hate-sex thing.
MG: I’d sleep with Big Zwey…. He seemed like a big bear.
NC: He's like the Of Mice and Men dude.
MG: Also, why did he never want to sleep with Elmira?
EZ: Pet u 2 death! Maybe he never had sex.
NC: Totally never had sex. He thought they were marrrrried. I cried. And then she wound up getting him killed by Indians.
MG: There’s definitely a gay undercurrent in this book…most obviously Gus and Call, and their many exchanges that are basically a married couple bickering.
EZ: Call seems gay without knowing what being gay is.
NC: And Newt, right, seems just a little gay.
MG: And Pea Eye…who won't go to the whorehouse, for example.
Previously: Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn.
Nicole Cliffe is the proprietor of Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews. Matthew Gallaway is the author of The Metropolis Case. Oh and he'll be reading at Book Soup in West Hollywood on May 19th, followed by a Q&A with Hairpin pal Natasha Vargas-Cooper.