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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

45

Books We Forgot We Loved: Lonesome Dove

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?

EZ: OMG!

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.

45 Comments / Post A Comment

Meredith L.

Magical negros and Magical Mexicans aside (how cute-trite is Po Campo? i still want him in my pocket, foraging spring onions for me), Deet's death made me sob uncontrollably for about an hour, mostly tied up in Pea Eye's little "they had a conversation once. Maybe they would have one again!" BROKE ME.

i loved Clara and her big hands, her cakes and her brittleness. i would name my daughter Clara.

Comanche Moon is all about Blue Duck's background. once i recover from GUS'S 40 PAGE DEATH BY SEPTIC AMPUTATION(jesus fucing christ, Larry McMurty) i may go back to Half-Priced Books and see what's up with him.

Nicole Cliffe@facebook

@Meredith L. Should we read the other books? I was a little afraid to, because this was such a BOOK, you know?

Matthew Gallaway

@Meredith L. I agree about Deets' death being super sad -- I mean, McMurtry is such a master at capturing the vaguely destroyed/forlorn quality of people and their inability to really 'connect' with each other with any kind of depth (while still making them likable, which isn't easy). Also, did not know about Comanche Moon!

Edith Zimmerman

@Matthew Gallaway I started Dead Man's Walk last night.

Matthew Gallaway

@Edith Zimmerman I went through a phase where I read all of his Terms of Endearment books, too, which were also great! (At least in my memory...) Maybe we should change the name of this book club from Pin Reads to "let's read every book Larry McMurtry wrote"?

Meredith L.

@Matthew Gallaway i know, right? mcmurtry was supposedly very content with the book being stand-alone, but after it's success (and especially after the mini-series, which is it insane that i think i'm going to watch that this week?) he was pressured into it. streets of laredo follows up on Call which is where i'd like to start. edith, do tell how Dead Man's Walk goes!!

Matthew Gallaway

@Meredith L. I'll be curious to see what you think of the miniseries. For a book that sort of screams out 'movie,' the miniseries, despite hewing closely to the plot/dialogue, feels very cartoony/campy to me in ways the book largely avoids (see, e.g., the snake-bite scene), although maybe it needs to be redone with a bleaker sensibility more in keeping with book.

veryanonymous

@Matthew Gallaway the Terms of Endearment books ARE great! As are most of the "Duane" books. Not The Last Picture Show, oddly enough. And not the last one. But the ones in between. "Texasville," particularly. Yeah, go read Texasville.

Matthew Gallaway

@blily Interesting, will do -- I think The Last Picture Show IS a great movie, though? It's the exact vibe a good Lonesome Dove adaptation would have, I think...

jennyo

@Meredith L.
No. NO! Do NOT read the other ones. They are very, very inferior and will make you mad. Larry McMurtry is such an uneven writer. As for Blue Duck, he is based on someone real whose name I can't remember right now. McMurtry has some issues about Comanches.

Meredith L.

@blily What about "Moving On"? I know it's vaguely related to "All My Friends are Going to be Strangers" (hands down, my favorite title of all time) and it's 800 pages have been staring me in the face on my bookshelf for about three years now.

Tulletilsynet

@Meredith L.
(Thank Merle Haggard.)

Tulletilsynet

@blily
(Who are these people dissing The Last Picture Show? I mean the book, the book!)

atipofthehat

"Wouldn't be able to wrangle a blog post or squar-dance to a hot mixtrack, or who'd be too frightened to rustle up a passel a' penguin-resemblin' snacks"?

Or just had a special, special carrot...?

Meredith L.

@atipofthehat funny enough, some linked to me a very appropriate (as well as GREAT) online mix when i was in the final third of the book. (runs to change stereo). http://whenyouawake.com/2008/05/01/mixin-with-howlin-rain/

LauraJ

Oh, wow! I just finished re-reading LD a few weeks ago for the first time in about a decade. The thing is, I feel like it is haunting me (in a good way). Random scenes will just pop up in my head (Irish boy and water moccasins in the river, anyone? Call leaving Newt for the last time? The VERY LAST WORDS OF THE BOOK??) and they are so beautiful/horrible that they have come along with me.

Matthew Gallaway

@LauraJ Very true -- I was obsessed with saying "dern" and "Nebrasky" for weeks. But more seriously, yes, I think it's a very haunting story that does stick with you. (One note: You may not want to watch the miniseries if you want to think of the water moccasins without LOLing: that said, it's on NF instant stream, so it's hard to resist.)

LauraJ

@Matthew Gallaway I am sufficiently old that I originally watched the miniseries when it aired on TV! It was a Television Event and my whole family gathered 'round. That water moccasin scene made a BIG impression--I thought it was really scary! I have been debating re-watching the miniseries, and this is making me think it doesn't stand the test of time...

highjump

"MG: Also, the married/conventional women are all scolds and nags. Let's not forget how Clara's husband ended up!"

No. No. Just no. Clara isn't a scold or a nag - she is stronger than all of them! That is the fucking point of her character arc. That the duuuuudes deal with snakes and shooting and blah blah blah, but none of them are strong enough to deal with what Clara deals with. None of them are strong enough to stay, face their problems, and form lasting relationships. When Gus visits her he isn't like "whoa, she's such a nag." he's like "whoa, this is some real shit and Clara is not the pretty pretty princess I've built her up as in my mind. We have both evolved as people"

Matthew Gallaway

@highjump Yeah, I can see your point. Let me explain a bit? I was referring to Elmira and July Johnson's sister (forget her name) as scolds/nags w/r/t their husbands. But I think on a symbolic level, you can't ignore the implication that the husband of Clara (yes, the one strong woman) ends up in a coma? She doesn't exactly 'win,' is what I'm saying, and then has to settle for July Johnson, who's annoying! In short, women get a bad deal no matter what.

Nicole Cliffe@facebook

@Matthew Gallaway We definitely all thought Clara was a Righteous Chick. And her relationship with Cholo is so fascinating.

Matthew Gallaway

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook Yes, new fan-fiction spinoff coming up where Clara awesomely gives the boot to July Johnson and marries Cholo!

fortress

I loved this book so much. I found that Call’s relationship to the Hell Bitch was very realistic. He was the kind of person who could not, for whatever reason, find the way to love other people. (And he was gay so there's that.) He could respect the hell out of them, but not love them. Even Augustus – the trip back with Gus’s body is as close as he could get to showing love for his bestie, whereas Gus was able to spread love around so freely. (AHHHHH, Gus!) And the Hell Bitch, well, some of us are just better with animals. Giving the horse to Newt was also really, really touching and sad - Call could come so close, but not close enough for the kind of a father-son relationship which would be meaningful enough to change the way his brain worked.

Matthew Gallaway

@fortress very much agree on all counts, fortress!

MollyculeTheory

I always want to snack on, like, bread and cheese and dried meat "like they do on the trail", until I take a moment and concede that baguette, morbier, and beef jerky isn't exaaaaactly cowboy food.

Most of the characters are so horrible and so wonderful at the same time and uuuuugh I just feel all verklempt again thinking about it!

Matthew Gallaway

@MollyculeTheory that horrible/wonderful thing is really a great way to think about it...I think there's often a tendency among storytellers to make characters saints or villains, which can be nauseating in either scenario, and part of McMurty's magic is avoiding that trap.

faustbanana

My mom had been bugging me to read LD for years, but this (dern) Pin Reads gave me a much-needed nudge. I loved this book intensely and completely. Can't remember the last time I was so absorbed in a novel.

There were a few elements I liked less than others. Lorena's eternal silence, for one - understandable given what she'd been through at such a young age, but also felt slightly contrived.

There was a "magical negro" aspect to Deets, but that was alleviated by his companeros' respect for him as a worker, not as a black worker. It seemed that he was simply highly skilled and experienced at some tasks, unrelated to his blackness. And yes, I bawled when he died. Bawled, I tell you!

When Gus was about to die I actually didn't read the book for a week (after reading it daily) because I was terrified at what was going to happen! The main theme I took away concerned how lives are shaped by random, seemingly innocent events. The deaths of Deets and the other hands on the trail were quick, unforeseen and senseless. Jake Spoon rode into Lonesome Dove and altered the futures of scores of people. Gus's failure to kill Blue Duck when he had the chance had dramatic consequences. Etc. etc. But, the futility of all this was balanced by a character like Gus, who lived his life a day at a time, without regrets, and wrung pleasure from whatever he could.

That balance is also reflected in the characters - like Matthew and MollyculeTheory mentioned, there is a very realistic and satisfying ambiguous aspect to each character. One of my favorite examples of this is when Newt - sweet, sensitive Newt - turns cold and apathetic after Call refuses to acknowledge him as kin before he rides off back to Texas.

On a lighter note, can we vote for grossest character? I'm gonna go with Lippy on account of the flapping lower lip, filth-encrusted hat and CONSTANTLY LEAKING WOUND AAAAAHHHHHH

Man. Such an awesome read.

Matthew Gallaway

@faustbanana if it's physically gross, I agree with you about Lippy LOL, but if it's morally gross, I think I vote for the nasty brother outlaw/Jake Spoon cohort who shot down the sweet (gay?) bearded settlers for no reason, before hanging and burning them...

faustbanana

@Matthew Gallaway Ugh, yes. Their appearance marks the beginning of Part 2, aka Ominous Dove.

brad

the last western i read was blood meridian. and i very much enjoyed it. very much. would i enjoy this mcmurtry fellow?

Matthew Gallaway

@brad I think it's worth a shot -- I haven't read Blood Meridian in years, but I remember thinking it was awesome, an exceedingly violent account of the west that rang completely true in the most disturbing ways. Lonesome Dove is more operatic (soap, at times), but filled with great characters (and plenty of violence, but it's not so much the focus, at least compared to Blood Meridian).

brad

@Matthew Gallaway thank you for this attentiveness! i am a poetry geek first, and mccarthy's language is hypnotic to me, as it is to others, i'm sure. does mcmurty have a way with the words, in your opinion?

Matthew Gallaway

@brad the short answer is no, he's not as 'lyrical' as McCarthy (at his best -- which I think is Blood Meridian, btw), but he does have a way of encapsulating philosophical truths in very plain-spoken and sometimes surprisingly beautiful language (he's also a lot funnier/raunchier than McCarthy, which when it works is great).

omgkitties

I saw this headline and quickly emailed a link to my mother (she loves this book)...and then I read the post. HOO BOY!

Matthew Gallaway

@dearheart Aww, don't worry, dearheart, I'm sure your mom's cool if she likes LD!

omgkitties

@Matthew Gallaway Aw, thanks. And she is super cool. But...carrot penises (peni?)! (Mostly -90%- laughing over this. Mother's Day dinner is gonna be great!)

Nicole Cliffe@facebook

@dearheart I take full responsibility for the penis-carrots thing.

theharpoon

So, did anyone else notice the Lonesome Dove reference in Friday Night Lights season 2 when Jason and Tim are in Mexico and Tim tells Jason that he'll drag his dead body home if he has to???? Because I loved that.

theharpoon

@theharpoon I can't believe that no one has responded to this. I am so disappointed right now.

dracula's ghost

I love Lonesome Dove so much. First read it as a 10 year old, totally hiding a flashlight under my pillow to read even after my parents told me to shut it down! Then saw the miniseries, which I think is also great. Duvall and Jones really nail those characters. Their chemistry makes me sob. I think those two actors really bring out the deep love/old-married vibe of the book in a wonderful way. And they nail all the EPIC dialogue. "Well the first man comes along can read Latin is welcome to rob us. I'd relish the chance to shoot at an educated man for once," etc. etc. "I don't know what kind of herd you think you can rustle up. Herd of whores, maybe." and "What do you need two legs for, anyway? All you do is sit around...drinkin' whiskey." "I like to kick a pig." Also TLJ did all his own riding in the movie, which I believe is very badass. Also ANJELICA HUSTON plays Clara, I mean, come on. And Chris Cooper will break your fucking heart into a million pieces as July Johnson! Never will I forget it. The guy who plays Blue Duck is cheesy as hell though, but then again what are you gonna do with a character like that.

But yeah. A beautiful, sad, funny book that I am constantly recommending to people and people always think it is just some bullshit pulp novel, which seriously wounds me, so thank you for this post. I so rarely meet fellow fans. This has reminded me to go read the book again.

I strongly agree that the other books in the LD series are NOT AS GOOD and will BUM YOU OUT. Let me just tell you that Lorena marries PEA EYE. Yeah.

Matthew Gallaway

@Marianna Okay, lol, that is BAD NEWS about Lorena and Pea Eye.

faustbanana

@Marianna Oh no! Poor Dish!

Nicole Cliffe@facebook

@Marianna This is deeply unacceptable to me.

Trixie Biltmore@twitter

Deets might be a magical negro in the book, but he's based on a real person, named Boze Ikard. The main characters were all real people. Call was Charles Goodnight, Gus was Oliver Loving, and they started a cattle trail called the Goodnight-Loving Trail. Boze/Deets was their best cowhand and Goodnight had a monument erected to him, when Boze died- Boze lived to be an old man, though. Gus/Oliver really DID die of a nasty infected arrow wound. Totally fascinating.

Natty Soltesz@facebook

"Streets of Laredo" is worth reading if only to find out what happens to Newt, and that's all I'll say about that. What strikes me about this book every time I read it are the overarching personalities of Gus and Call and how they seem to play off of one another and seem to say something about our lives and responsibilities, maybe as Americans, maybe just as people. These sometimes-warring needs for 1) responsibility, removal, individuality (Call) and 2) absurdity, social integration, community (Gus). When I first read the book I thought of myself as Call, who is a tragic figure in his inability to feel or connect with others. But I know now that I have a little more Gus in me than I initially thought, and geez, you just gotta love Gus, every time I read this book he inspires me.

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