Horseman, Pass By by Larry McMurtry

TitleHorseman, Pass By
Author:Larry McMurtry
FinishedApril 18, 2021 (Est)


  • This report includes spoilers, but hey, this novel was written in 1961, so you’ve had a fair chance to read it.
  • I read this as part of the “Thalia: A Texas Trilogy”, so page number citations will likely not match up with the standalone novel.


Larry McMurtry died on March 25, 2021. Back in 1976, my boss – Tom Lloyd – at the Idaho State Correctional Institution – where I was a teacher and librarian – introduced me to McMurtry’s novels. I quickly became enamored and he was my favorite author for decades. When I read of his passing I decided to go back and re-read some of his earliest novels: Horseman Pass By, Leaving Cheyenne, The Last Picture Show, and Moving On. I’m not sure I have the emotional stamina to tackle Terms of Endearment again, my favorite of his novels second only to his masterpiece Lonesome Dove.

The young protagonist – Lonnie Bannon – lives on a cattle ranch near “Thalia” Texas caught up in the tension between his grandfather, Homer,  and his uncle, Hud, who have feuded for years. A hoof and mouth outbreak requires Homer to destroy his entire herd. Hud uses the crisis and Homer’s declining condition to gain control of the ranch. 

“And Hud would always do the thing he wanted to do, whether it hurt anybody or not; Hud just did what he intended to do.” [p 117]

And in the climactic scene, Lonnie looks at Hud wondering why he did what he did:

“It could have been for kindness or for meanness either, whichever mood was on Hud…”

“I never could tell why Hud did things, he was too much a mystery to me.”

Pages 158 & 159

McMurtry said he was writing to demythologize the Western Hero genre; he does that in this novel where we see the mid-century modern realities of the cattle business. 

“All of [the cowboys] wanted more and seemed to end up with less; they wanted excitement and ended up stomped by a bull or smashed against a highway; or they wanted a girl to court; and anyway, whatever it was they wanted, that was what they ended up doing without.”

Page 143

I can’t help but see Larry McMurtry writing about his childhood in this novel. It takes place in and around the small town of Thalia which is based on McMurtry’s hometown of Archer City. McMurtry says he knew at a young age that the cow life was not his future. In a “Fresh Air” interview  McMurtry talks about how quiet his grandmother was; she had done all the child rearing she planned to and never spoke a word to her grandson. We see that in the cranky grandmother in this novel. 

In this, his first novel, one can see McMurtry’s skills. He does an exceptional job of describing the country, and the characters’ dialogs seem real and move the story along. 

If you don’t want to read the book, checkout the movie “Hud” which was based on this novel.

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