Book Review: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry


If there is one story I have grown up with, besides Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, and Narnia, it is Lonesome Dove.  Which probably sounds strange, to lump Lonesome Dove in with those beloved children’s books, since admittedly it is far from a children’s classic, it is a classic and a product of my youth, so there it is.  My uncle absolutely loves, no adores, no… something stronger than that… I don’t know how to describe it.  He can quote the movie from beginning to end.  I think he secretly wishes he had been a cowboy.  And he reveres Gus.  So, it goes without saying that I grew up listening to the vast wisdom and wit of Captain Augustus Mcrae, one of the immortal cowboys of Lonesome Dove.  

When I was about 14, and prone to reading long, epic novels of vast scope and ideal, (I’m trying to be witty myself here, can ya tell?), I decided I would read Lonesome Dove.  Get all the details of the story, so to speak, so I could give my uncle all the little details he didn’t get from the movie.  I don’t think I had even watched the movie, I knew most of the story because of my uncle.   I got my hands on a copy and I started the trip.  And my, my, what a trip this book is.  I raced through the book, like 14 years are able to do, and went on to read the rest of the series as it came out.  

Lonesome Dove is about so much. It is more than a western, more than a work of historical fiction, more than romance, more than an epic road trip, more than an adventure.  It comes down to two men and their strange friendship, for two men are less alike than Gus and Call.  The book starts in the dusty little down of Lonesome Dove, Texas down near the borderlands and moves steadily north through prairie, desert, Indian infested land, snakes, buffalo and takes you all up to the wilds of Montana on a cattle drive.  The characters in this novel are unforgettable.  I can rave about Gus all day (and I’m sure any woman who has ever read this book came away a little bit in love with him) but there are other amazing characters living in these pages.  Heroes.  Outlaws.  Indians.  Whores.  Ladies.  Settlers.  This book is the story of the Wild Wild West and is beautifully written, dramatic and unforgettable.  I dare you to read this book and not laugh, cry, and fall in love.  

I just can’t get enough of Gus and Call and all the boys (and girls!) of Lonesome Dove.  

And I still can’t.  When Amy (of My Friend fame) challenged her readers to join in a readalong of Lonesome Dove, I knew I had to join in.  I have since seen the movie, several times, and this story remains near and dear to my heart.  I worried about exactly how I would do it, with RIP going on, and all the other review books that are stacked on my desk (cringe), but then I remembered.  One of the first audiobooks I ever got from Audible was Lonesome Dove!  And I had never listened to it.  Problem solved!  So I decided to listen to the audio, read by actor and western novelist himself, Lee Horsley.  

And what a fantastic journey it was, all over again.  It was even more, for me, reading it again almost 18 years later.   The things that jumped out at me!  The treatment and lives of the women of the old west were especially interesting.  There is so much to this story, I know there is no way I can hit on it all.  You become invested in these characters along their journey.  Gus and Call and all the boys came alive in Lee Horsley’s voice.  Now, this isn’t the best audio production I’ve ever heard.  It was the first time I heard background noise in any audiobook I have ever listened to.  I didn’t care.  Mr. Horsley made these characters live.  And breathe.  And love and hate and kill and walk and talk and more.   I’m sure I have no adequately described this book, but I know I have described how it makes me feel.  Lonesome Dove is on my all time favorites list, will you add it to yours?  As USA Today says:  

“If you read only one western novel in your life, read Lonesome Dove.”  

*Note: Amazingly enough, I cannot find an audio CD of Lonesome Dove anywhere, they only have *gasp* cassette tapes.  I downloaded my copy from Audible.  Either way you read it, I still highly recommend it.  The copy I link to here is a new edition that came out in June of this year.  The edition in my upper picture is from 2000.  The one below is the new edition.  Isn’t the new cover gorgeous?  It looks like all of McMurtry’s books got a similar treatment and I find myself wishing I didn’t own my copies, so I could get the new ones!  Silly me….  

*Also Note: If you have read this book, be sure to follow along with the discussion at My Friend Amy’s blog.  

*Yet another note: If you are curious about the evolution of this book and how McMurtry came to write it, you should read the Wikipedia entry on Lonesome Dove.  It is very fascinating.  

*One last note, I promise:  I also highly recommend the movie.  Robert Duvall is magic as Gus; it was a part he was born to play.  

 Lonesome Dove: A Novel by Larry McMurtry
Genre: Western, Historical Fiction
Paperback: 864 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: June 15, 2010
ISBN: 978-1439195260
Rated: 5/5  

Other varying opinions:  

books i done read and lots of posts from the readalong… 

 Buy yourself a copy at Barnes & Noble

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12 thoughts on “Book Review: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

  1. I finished the book last week and WOW WOW WOW it's now one of my all time favorites. I remember watching the mini-series when I was little but didn't remember anything about the story. I can't wait to watch it again!

  2. I love the miniseries! I was sucked in and watched the whole thing in two nights a couple months ago. I was a little in love with Gus AND Call. Westerns fascinate me – that's why I thought Brokeback Mountain (though I didn't see it) was such a natural thing because a lot of those friendships tend to be much more intimate than the male/female relationships, but that's a whole other conversation… and not implying it's the case here.

    Now I really want to read it. The water moccasin scene was so horrifying. I was emotionally exhausted when I finished the whole thing.

  3. What a great story – I love that this book has been part of your life. Some books just are in that way. I'm glad you still liked it so much – I read this earlier this year and I am so glad. I wish I had a copy now!

  4. Is it shocking to admit I still have no desire to read this one? Even after reading everyone's posts through the readalong. Westerns just don't call to me I guess. Heck, they don't even whisper.

  5. I'm sold. I think it's so cool when a family member's adoration of a story (in whatever medium it's told in) influences younger members to check that story out.

  6. I just recently finished THE THORN BIRDS & loved & am now on a roll with big epic sagas! lol I also have GONE WITH THE WIND & ROOTS on my list. Hopefully will start this soon between all my other TBRs.

  7. Oh, sigh – I read this book when I was a teenager too – early teenager – and then my dad rented the movie for me when I was home sick with some maladie or another, can't remember what. When my sister-in-law (ten years younger) asked for a book recommendation because she wanted to like reading, I gave her this one first and I am happy to say she has been reading (mostly books I give her) ever since. Such a great, great book. I really enjoyed the Berrybender series as well. Oh! And Terms of Endearment! We are so lucky to have McMurtry in our lives!!

  8. I was hoping you would say the books were powerfully written and so much superior to the miniseries (All of them). I’ve watched them all many times and realize they are massive cinematic efforts with great actors but the story lines leave me so depressed. They bum me out, so I watch them totally academically. I won’t go into all of my assessments of the plot and character development, but as a western fan, I’d rather watch Laramie reruns!
    So I figured he had to be a great writer that just didn’t translate well on the screen. I hope that is so.

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