It would be difficult, I believe, for any list of outstanding Western novels to exclude Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. I have read several McMurtry novels, and the truth is I run hot and cold on his writing—some of the books I like, some do nothing for me, some I would not recommend.
But when it comes to Lonesome Dove, I am hard pressed to do anything but stand in awe.
The main tale, a trail drive from Texas to Montana, is simple enough. But the many intertwining subplots give the book depth and richness, with stories both intricate and complex.
But it is the characters that set the book apart from all others. Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae are an unlikely pair, with well-developed personalities that are at the same time contradictory and complementary. And the supporting characters, the whole long list of them, are likewise realistic and representative of the depth and breadth of humanity.
To win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction—which Lonesome Dove did in 1986—is an accomplishment unrivaled for a novel. For a Western novel, it is almost unprecedented and, for a “cowboy” novel, I believe it is unique.
The film adaptation is well done, but it’s about time for me to dive back into the book for, I think, the third time.