Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Nathaniel Miller Wallows In Larry McMurtry's Writing
Texas was once the west, and Texan Larry McMurtry writes a great deal about the “old west,” so I think it’s safe to call him a Western writer.
The best parts of my recent days have consisted of wallowing in the crude genius of McMurtry's dialogue.
“Streets of Laredo” (1993), which I’m reading now for the first time, is the sequel to “Lonesome Dove” and was written before the two prequels, “Dead Man’s Walk” and “Comanche Moon.” “Lonesome Dove” (1985) is a book I get worked up about. Sure, untold numbers adore it, and it won that little thing they call the Pulitzer, but people of high erudition tend to disparage it (without having read it, of course). Sometimes I am forced to have words with these people.
“Lonesome Dove” deals with so many things, but above all it’s about the taming of the West; “Streets” seems to exist primarily to satisfy McMurtry's fascination with "killers" in the time before effective, pervasive law. Sometimes I think it's gratuitous, sometimes I think it's very real – if reality were honed to an edge so sharp that it was ragged and would break if pressed against any hard surface.
McMurtry has always demonstrated a fondness for killing off his characters – he kills them swiftly – often with pain, gore, and zeal, but almost never with telegraphing or fanfare. That’s one of his strengths: he can make a story (or a life) seem real just by its sheer, unscrupulous unpredictability. He stomps on western romanticism with flair and black humor.
It’s true, sometimes he lets a plotline get the better of him, spinning in too many directions until all you’re left with is loose thread (see “Comanche Moon”), but the ride is usually worthwhile.
He’s also showing off, in “Streets,” his clear love for tossing historical characters in with his fictional ones, and putting strange, compelling, off-beat words in their mouths. In this case, it’s the famous cattleman Charles Goodnight, who has minor roles in all of the “Lonesome Dove” books but figures prominently here in all his terse glory, and John Wesley Hardin, the infamous killer.
I’m halfway through, steeped in blood, completely uncertain as to where the story is going or who it’s really about, and pleased to be in good hands.
>> Here’s a link to the Wikipedia page that lists Larry McMurtry's books.
~ Nathaniel Miller writes about the dark side of nature, and other things. He enjoys pig-meat, old Russian folk music and books about Ned Kelly. He is not from the same place as you. When he passes by, all the people say, “Just another guy on the lost highway.”