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Homer was from Texas
Dad stopped by this evening with a gift in tow. “I know how you love that book of his, so I figured you’d enjoy this. They say it’s new,” he said as he handed me a copy of the biography of my favorite American author after Melville.
Larry McMurtry–essayist, novelist, bookseller, and chronicler of vanishing peoples and a shrinking frontier–gave us more than a book when he hammered out Lonesome Dove on his old 1958 Hermes 3000 typewriter, he gave us a legend. It is a bit ironic that this son of a Texas cattle rancher, who found all the romantic cowboy myths so shot through with saccharine sentimentalism that they set his teeth on edge, gave us the ‘anti-western’ that became the Odyssey of the American West.
His epic novel is as thick as an Augusta brick, but all 843 pages resound with pitch perfect prose. From setting to characters to dialogue, everything is just as it should be as McMurtry unfolds a tale in which nothing is as it should be. It is shot through with sadness and woe, much like the world we hoped to escape when cracking open the covers of the book. It portrays a world out of tune, like the old barroom piano in the opening pages; a world whose face is pockmarked by unrequited love and whose conscience is haunted by the omnipresence of unclaimed sons. But as we set out to ride with Gus and Call and Newt and Jake Spoon we find our saddlebags full of inexplicable joy.
Ultimately, it is a story of friendship; the age-old saga of promises made and promises kept. Reading it as a teenage boy reared in a Christian family, I found an American depiction of the kind of devotion enjoyed by David and Jonathan of old. And somewhere between the Rio Grande and Montana I learned something of the rugged beauty of loyalty as I watched a lone pallbearer on a silent ride. Promises made, promises kept.
I admit to weeping when I finished Lonesome Dove for the first time. But not because of how it ended, only because it had.