Other People’s Favourite Books – Chris Pash on Larry McMurty’s Lonesome Dove
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
I did the old-style traditional stint as a cadet journalist on a newspaper but most of my life has been spent doing hard news fast as a newswires reporter, correspondent, bureau chief and editor in charge. Tight 350 word news stories. In the mid 1990s I fell into the business side of news and now swim in the online content sea where I’ve been for so long I have sepia-toned wrinkles. In my spare time I write what could be called creative nonfiction but I to me they are stories, long stories.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty.
How do you describe this book when you recommend it to other people?
It’s an epic western novel about a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. There are so many main characters (I count 12) that the narrative should be crowded and it should be hard for the reader to relate but it isn’t. Larry McMurty also breaks rules. On one page I recall he has three different points of views … and it works. Lonesome Dove is a fabulous read from page one. McMurty won the Pulitzer Prize for it and amazingly an excellent television mini series was made. I recall Christopher Skase, the late failed Australian entrepreneur, was involved so in that at least he did something good. Larry writes about the American West and in 2006 also won an Oscar for the best adapted screenplay for Brokeback Mountain. If you saw the telecast, he was the scruffy bloke who gave a speech to the glitterati about the value of books. Fabulous.
How old were you and what was going on in your life when you first read it?
I think it was the late 1980s and I had moved back to Sydney from Adelaide (via Papua New Guinea). Sydney was in the fast lane and excess was in; French champagne; expensive cars; luxury holidays. Lonesome Dove is gritty and has strong values. Sydney was plastic and weak on the value side.
How many times have you read it?
At least twice.
Who wouldn’t you recommend it to?
Can’t think of anyone but I do sometimes find it hard to convince people to read a western. That’s all about Clint Eastwood and spaghetti westerns, isn’t it?
Do you have a crush on one of the characters, or the author? Or do you want to be one of them?
I like the two former Texas Rangers, Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae, who start the cattle drive as one last push against the advancing years. They are not perfect but they sure do look after their mates. They represent a cleaner, less complicated, purer existence. You want them to win because that means you have a chance at winning … the right way.
Have you read other books by the author? If yes, what did you think of them? If no, why not?
Yes, I like most of Larry McMurty’s work and much of it has ended up in Hollywood — The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment, Texasville – but I like best the books with those two Texas Rangers: Dead Man’s Walk; The Streets of Laredo; Comanche Moon. .
What do you love most about it?
This is one book you can lose yourself in, love the characters, that world and leave yours behind.
Think about the feeling it gave, or gives you. What could you most closely relate that to?
Like a lot of westerns, and the detective genre, there’s a clear divide between right and wrong. It’s that simpler life we all crave.
Can you share with us a favourite moment, passage, or line in the book?
The two ageing Texas Rangers stop at a town during the cattle drive and wander into a bar trailing dust. On the wall is a photograph of them as young men, saviours against the threat of Comanche raiders. The bartender, a young bloke who was probably not weaned when these men were heroes, gives them cheek about being dirty and one of the lawmen pistol whips him. If you’ve ever had to stand in a queue for hours to be told by a bureaucrat that you can’t have what you want or if you’ve been treated offhandedly by a bank teller, you know the feeling. The two Texas Rangers also have a touch of the easy style of the Australian digger in the face of danger. They have a quick chat to decide which one of them will track down a gang of bandits to rescue a kidnapped a woman. One of them! I’d take an army.
Do any other books come close? Name a couple if so.
I can’t think of any. I do like The Road by Cormac McCarthy. He also writes about the west, mostly a violent west, but The Road is scary on a deeper level. It’s like a long, quiet poem that drags you step by stumble deep into hell. While Lonesome Dove stays with me, comforts me, The Road unsettles, can’t be embraced.
Chris Pash is the author of The Last Whale. LiteraryMinded has six limited edition Last Whale bookplates (to stick in the front of books) to give away signed by the author and real life characters within the book. To enter, pop me an email at literaryminded (at) gmail (dot) com with the subject line being your favourite book. Please put your name in the body of the email.
Coming this FRIDAY – Nam Le interview…