Just as the tiny town of Lonesome Dove was the starting point for a journey in Larry McMurtry's book of the same name, so also is Boone's Lick in this yarn by the same author.
In LONESOME DOVE, we followed the adventures of two Texas Rangers turned cattle ranchers driving a herd from the banks of the Rio Grande to Montana. In BOONE'S LICK, we have a family of sodbusters, the Cecils, traversing the plains between Missouri and Wyoming shortly after the Civil War. The family is led by the mother, Mary Margaret, whose intent is to find her husband, gone these past 14 months and presumably living at one of the Army's frontier forts, possibly with an Indian woman. Along for the ride are Mary's children (G.T., Shay, Neva, and Marcy), her brother-in-law Seth, her half-sister Rosie, and her aged Pa. Also attaching themselves to the group are an old French priest, Fr.Villy, and a native guide, Charlie Seven Days.
Whereas LONESOME DOVE was a truly epic tale, both as a book and as one of the best TV miniseries ever broadcast, BOONE'S LICK is less ambitious, but enjoyable nonetheless. The character of Seth was sufficiently similar to that of Gus McCrae in the LONESOME DOVE screenplay that I could easily imagine McRae's Robert Duvall playing the part if BOONE'S LICK is ever brought to the screen. (Picturing Duvall as Seth added considerably to my enjoyment.)
Author McMurtry's style is very similar in both stories. He doesn't downplay the hardships and dangers of cross-country travel at that time and place in American history. But he doesn't ignore rustic Western humor either. When, while traveling by riverboat, Seth remarks to Mary Margaret that one of the crew, Joel, is thinking about marrying Rosie, MM retorts, "I don't think he's aiming that high. But he's aiming." Indeed, the verbal interplay between the crusty, independent Seth and the determined, strong-willed Mary Margaret is one of the storyline's major joys.
This is not a great book by any stretch, mainly because it's a novella masquerading as a full-length novel (with a full-length novel's price tag). However, the characters are well drawn, the dialog seemingly authentic for the period, and the action believable. You can read it in a two to three hours, and it's time well spent.
on 25 September 2010
Larry McMurtry is really a great writer. This book isn't as good as Lonesome Dove, but it is thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end. I think he could have made it an epic like Lonesome Dove, and I'm not sure why he didn't, but that doesn't take anything away from it, and it made me want to read more of his books, as I've only read the Lonesome Dove series. It is about a family from a small town in Missouri back in the 1800's who decide to take a trip up to Wyoming, and it is told through a fifteen year old boy in the family. I don't know if any other writer is as good as McMurtry when it comes to writing in the vernacular, and he has a great sense of humour as well. There are a few fairly brutal scenes in this book, so I don't think I would recommend it for children, but I think that most adults would enjoy it if they like well-drawn characters, short chapters and simple, good writing.
on 5 December 2013
A coming of age tale, an arduous quest and a love story wrapped up in a novella - what more does a reader require? The characterisation is fabulous - even the mules and the babies in this story are fully drawn and individualised. The voice of the narrator, Shay, a 15-year old growing up in the wilds of Missouri is pitch perfect: "Only yesterday, I'd been a boy, with nothing on my mind except watching my brother fish for crawdads, or my uncle shoot the heads off of turtles. Now the sun was just rising... and here I was an armed man, riding off with other armed men, to kill or be killed." Larry M likes a strong woman who makes her own rules. Shay's Ma, Mary Margaret, is the supposed heroine of the tale, an outspoken, gun-toting matriarch who drags her children and aged father from near starvation in backwoods Missouri to find her priapic husband just so she can tell him she's leaving. She is upstaged by her half sister Rose, a fun-loving whore and her daughter Neva, who achieves a glittering career as translator and author, and who ricochets merrily from husband to husband, on her own terms, and without suffering the traditional consequences. "Every two or three years, somone would arrive from the dock or the railroad station with a small child for us...'Ma, this is Ben - do your best. Neva' or 'Ma, this is Little Bat. Good luck'. Hugely entertaining read, highly recommended.