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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.
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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.
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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.
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on 26 February 2013
I think that this was McMurtry at his best. His attention to detail is amazing and it brings the characters to life. I look forward to reading the others in the series.
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on 22 August 2010
This is a relatively short (for McMurtry) Western tale about a backwoods Missouri family (it was probably pretty much all "backwoods" in those early days, wasn't it?).

Driven by the family matriarch, Mary Margaret, the partly extended Cecil clan heads west to Wyoming in search of her absentee husband -- a man who only returns to her at the little town of Boone's Lick on the Missouri River once every year or so to leave her with another child before hightailing it back to the western territories once more. Mary Margaret suspects (as we gradually come to learn in the book's first half) that he's tucked a second family away somewhere in Wyoming (how else explain his infrequent visits?) and she means to get to the bottom of it. Dick Cecil has already left Mary Margaret with two teenage age boys and a daughter just hitting puberty along with her most recent addition, the still-unweaned infant Marcy. Mary Margaret has already buried four other children as well as her ma, though ornery (and verging on the senile) Old Granpa Crackenthorpe, her pa, is still hanging on. Fortunately for all of them, wayward husband Dick's big brother, Uncle Seth, a Civil War veteran on the Union side and a crack rifle shot from his years as an army sniper, lives with them most of the time to help look after things.

But the set-up Dick has left her with isn't nearly enough for Mary Margaret, a strong-willed woman who doesn't cotton to the idea that her man may have himself another woman out west. The relationships among the Cecils and between them and some of the locals form the first part of the tale which, while nicely rendered, thanks to McMurtry's characteristic tightness and subtle insights into character, is not especially compelling and even seems a little disjointed as one seemingly unrelated episode slides into another. But it is precisely this interest in minutia that succeeds in giving the book its memoir-like feel and the narrative its reason for being.

The decision Mary Margaret takes surprises Uncle Seth and old Granpa Crackenthorpe and even the young 'uns but, after a little bickering, they all fall into line because there's no stopping Mary Margaret once she's made her mind up. From Missouri upriver to the then wild plains of Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska and into Wyoming the family treks under Mary Margaret's stern command, picking up the usual assortment of McMurtry oddballs along the way including Charlie Seven Trees, a lone Indian from upriver on a mission from the "Old Woman" (Sacajawea of Lewis & Clark expedition fame, it turns out) and an itinerant priest as big as a house from French Canada, Father Villy, who has taken a vow to "walk the earth" and is doing so barefoot. Rosie McGee, the town whore from back in Boone's Lick, Missouri, comes along, too, after a surprise of her own is revealed.

As in other McMurtry tales, this one's the story of yet another long trek by a bunch of unusual characters, undertaken and pursued to the end for entirely personal (and often mysterious) reasons. If Lonesome Dove was the tale of an epic cattle drive by a bunch of old Texas Rangers and their hangers-on who no longer quite fit into the Texas they have made (with an equally seeming quixotic return quest to top it off), and one of its prequels, Dead Man's Walk (Lonesome Dove), was the tale of an earlier quixotic attack by an irregular band of wild Texas "patriots" upon a much more formidable Mexican army and their long road back from the hell their recklessness had thrust them into, this one partakes of a similar motif. We've seen it before from McMurtry in the wayward Ft. Smith wife's mad quest for her lover, the no good Dee Boot, in Lonesome Dove, too. Indeed, McMurtry seems to return again and again to these familiar motifs in constructing his tales (see Sin Killer (The Berrybender Narratives)). But this lack of originality hardly detracts from the freshness of the events in this one, largely because the focus is on character and ordinariness here rather than on the more typical McMurtry emphasis on the unyielding demands of the fates.

Despite the relatively tame episodes that occur along their trail, this story got richer for me the farther it went. Although I was rather neutral throughout the first half of the book, despite appreciating the finely wrought dialogue and the sense of backwoods life McMurtry so cunningly conveys, I found less and less reason to put the novel down as the second half progressed and we began to get closer to the missing Dick Cecil and whatever it was he was hiding from poor Mary Margaret (which Uncle Seth already knew but refused to tell out of loyalty to his brother and maybe some other finer sensibility which does not become entirely obvious until the second half). Indeed, I began to resent the inevitable intrusions that typically occur during the course of any given day, intrusions which kept obliging me to put the book down.

It only took a day to read (interruptions and all) but, by the end, I felt a keen interest in the complex factors which drove Mary Margaret to uproot her family and take them west to confront the man she had married sixteen years earlier -- along with the reasons which kept Uncle Seth with them to the end, despite his dissent on the matter of making the trip in the first place. Of course it was clear Mary Margaret knew him at least as well as he knew himself.

A young Wild Bill Hickock plays a part in the first half of the book, by the way, where we learn that Seth Cecil and Hickock are former army colleagues and somewhat wary competitors in the game of reputation though poor Uncle Seth, because of his attachment to his brother's family, has apparently ceded success in the fame department to Wild Bill. Still the two find time to join up with a local Missouri sheriff right off in order to bring in some miscreants, a situation which results in a little gunplay but without the famous shootouts old Wild Bill would come to be famous for. The tale ends on a nice note, too -- prompting me to wonder if McMurtry made the whole thing up or built it out of the records of some real folk who actually lived in those times. Of course, even if he didn't, the wrap-up rather nicely puts it all into a broader perspective.

A good and satisfying novel of the old West though certainly nothing like the cowboys and gunfighters shoot-em-ups we so often end up with in our western fare! It's a small book about some ordinary folks but one which resonates deeply with the spirit of the west itself. Glad I took a chance on it.

Stuart W. Mirsky
author of The King of Vinland's Saga, a tale of Vikings and Indians in North America some 800 years before this one takes place, on the east coast of what would someday become the gateway to America's West
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on 16 April 2013
I found this to be an easy going story and it is a book for all age groups.
Recommended reading.
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on 14 January 2015
good listening
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on 18 August 2015
A great read.
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on 9 March 2016
Great book
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