Larry McMurtry, who died on Thursday at the age of 84, created a body of work that probed the West’s mythology and legacy. Many of his best writings, including “Horseman, Pass By,” “The Last Picture Show,” “Leaving Cheyenne,” and “Lonesome Dove,” were adapted into films or television episodes, which have subsequently surpassed the original novels in popularity. Pick them up again as a favor to yourself.
‘Horseman, Pass By’ (1961)
When McMurtry was a graduate student at Stanford, he authored his first novel, which was eventually adapted into a film called “Hud.” “Some conventional assumptions of life on a Texas cattle ranch are burst in this short, realistic story,” Wayne Gard said in a review for The New York Times. Throughout the story, four-letter words appear in a torrent, rather than a sprinkling. To some, the language will appear admirably earthy; to others, it will appear regrettably crude. Nonetheless, it captures the cowhand’s idiom. Larry McMurtry possesses not only a keen ear for conversation, but also a gift for expressiveness that may readily bloom in more significant works.”
‘Leaving Cheyenne’ (1962)
“Leaving Cheyenne,” a decades-long story about a West Texas love triangle, was “brightened and warmed by the author’s understanding of his locale and by his ear for the rhythm of discussion in Archer County,” according to the New York Times critic. And I couldn’t have been happier going on a raccoon hunt with this charming trio, or roping coyotes to catch them, or butchering hogs.” Walter Clemons described “Leaving Cheyenne” as a “funny, lovely, tragic” work in a 1971 reappraisal. Clemons stated, “There’s nothing Larry McMurtry doesn’t know about the way Texas folks think and talk.” “As a transplanted Texan, I must confess a bias: the voices in the book make me homesick for Texas. However, I feel that when a reader from another country hears delicacy and precision, he will respond positively. I enjoy the novel most of all because of the characters.”It tells the stories of three people who live in West Texas: Gideon Fry, a serious rancher; Johnny McCloud, a free-spirited cowhand; and Molly Taylor, the woman they both love and who has given each of them a son. They all follow that sundown trail. This haunting book is told from two different points of view over the course of 60 years. It shows their dreams, secrets, and grief in a changing American landscape.
‘The Last Picture Show’ (1966)
W.T. Jack wrote in his review of McMurtry’s third novel, a bittersweet coming-of-age tale that has long been overshadowed by Peter Bogdanovich’s film adaptation, “Texas teenagers complain that a small town is so dead there is nothing to do on a Saturday night except sit on the curb and watch the sewer back up.” “McMurtry is an alchemist who can turn even the most inert substances into gold.”
‘In a Narrow Grave’ (1968)
McMurtry battled with what it meant to be a Texan in this essay collection, which The New York Times did not evaluate. In the prologue to the book’s 1989 version, he said, “Before I was out of high school, I recognized I was seeing the death of a way of life — the rural, pastoral way of life.” “When I put these writings together, I had actually been living in cities for 14 years; intellectually, I had long been a city lad, but imaginatively, I was still trudging up the sandy path that led me out of the country.” Make “Take My Saddle From the Wall: A Valediction,” about McMurtry’s family, your only read from the book.McMurtry writes with the same grace and wit that he does in his fiction, and he talks about the great state of Texas and how it has shaped his writing and himself. He talks about sex, literature, cowboys, rodeos, small-town people, and big-city slickers.
‘All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers’ (1972)
For The New York Times, Jim Harrison adored this picaresque tale about a young writer on the verge of success. “It’s difficult to put into words a talent like McMurtry’s. “His work is often overly sensuous and brutal, but these elements are tempered by his comic genius in ‘All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers,'” Harrison said, before comparing McMurtry to both Saul Bellow and Norman Mailer.
‘Lonesome Dove’ (1985)
“Mr. McMurtry constructs a complex web of subplots involving secondary characters and out-of-the-way places,” Nicholas Lemann wrote in The New York Times’ review, “with the intention of employing the framework of a long, old-fashioned realistic novel to create an accurate image of life on the American frontier.” “He gives us conversationless cowboys whose greatest fear is having to speak to a woman, beastly buffalo hunters, murderous Indians, destitute Indians, prairie pioneers, river boat men, gamblers, scouts, cavalry officers, prostitutes, backwoodsmen; open plains and cow towns; the Nueces River, Platte River, and Yellowstone River.” Everything in the novel feels authentic; being anti-mythic is a huge help in describing the lonely, uneducated, and violent West accurately.”This Pulitzer Prize-winning book is a love story, an adventure, and an epic of the frontier. It’s the best book ever written about the last defiant wilderness in America. Lonesome Dove is a small, dusty town in Texas. There, you’ll meet a group of people who are both heroes and outlaws, as well as whores and ladies, Indians and settlers. This is a book that is very real, very beautiful, and always dramatic. It will make you laugh, cry, and dream.
The Berrybender Narratives
by Larry McMurtry
McMurtry’s four-volume series follows the Berrybender family, who are aristocratic, English, and fiercely out of place. They travel through the American West as it starts to open up, and they meet many interesting people. This is an epic of the American West. It has real and interesting people, famous shootouts, adventure, humor, love, and loss.
Terms of Endearment
by Larry McMurtry
Aurora Greenway and her daughter Emma are two of the most memorable characters in this well-known book that was made into a movie that won an Academy Award. Their struggle to find the courage and humor to live through life’s difficulties and to love each other grabs you by the heart and won’t let go of your heart.