My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Warning – spoiler alerts [but you MUST have already read this, right?]
This is my favorite book of all time – this is not hyperbole; you won’t hear me say that about any other book. Looking back I find it amazing that I first read this nearly half a lifetime ago – when it first came out in 1985.
It definitely holds up over time. My primary memories of this novel are Augustus, Augustus, Augustus. Reading it again I was delighted to see so much more. The first part of the story is packed full of foreshadowing; for example “But Augustus felt, with Call, that Jake wasn’t long on backbone. When he left the Rangers Augustus said more than once that he would probably end up hung.” [loc 1077 – locations, not page numbers in eBook]
We also see a number of parallels between characters – most directly the challenges facing Lorena and July’s wife Elmira – “Elmira decided they [the Buffalo hunters] were used to hard traveling and that she had better get used to it too.”[loc 7643].
In my memory the work of Augustus chasing Blue Duck seemed to be the sole focus for many pages. Reading again, I found that really that narrative is interspersed with July’s, Jake’s, and Elmira’s plots. It’s also interesting that Gus is not perfect – he totally lets his guard down allowing Lorena to be taken. Regardless, that stretch of narrative is among the best that can be read.
But more than anything, I found that this story is as much about Call’s failure to own up to his fatherhood as it is Augustus. “‘Why don’t you tell that boy who his pa is?’ Clara said. … ‘I always thought Call would work up to it, eventually,’ Augustus said. ‘I still think so.’ ‘I don’t,’ Clara said.” [loc 12688]
Call has such a tough exterior but the issue tears him up – even more after Gus is gone. “When he turned back to look at the boy, the choking feeling almost overcame him. He decided he would tell the boy he was his son, as Gus had wanted him to. He thought they would ride away a little distance, so they could speak in private. And yet, when he looked at Newt, standing there in the cold wind, with Canada behind him, Call found he couldn’t speak at all. It was as if his whole life had suddenly lodge in his throat, a raw bite he could neither spit out nor swallow.” [loc 15156]
In a newer introduction, McMurtry says that Newt is the lonesome dove and we find that “lonesome” is an adjective attributed to him again and again.
I love this book; I ended up crying over and over again as I worked my way through the final section. I’d think surely it doesn’t get more touching than this – but then it does.
This is a Larry McMurtry classic – strong women whom men don’t understand; humorous in many parts. It’s the peak of his career. My suggestion is read this immediately and follow up with Terms of Endearment.