Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bury my heart at Lonesome Dove

From time to time you're often asked in a survey or some such thing that irritating question, "What is your favorite book?"

Like songs and movies, I can't ever name just one. But my stock answer, if I'm forced to name just one, is usually Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove."

Oh, yes, I could go for a more literary choice ("The Sun Also Rises"), or a sentimental favorite ("Shoeless Joe"), but there's something special about McMurtry's 1985 Pulitzer-winning tale about the epic cattle drive to Montana.

At its heart, "Lonesome Dove" is the story of the great friendship between Texas Rangers Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call. It's peppered with all the usual suspects -- violence, action, romance, tragedy.

McMurtry never quite equaled what he did in its pages, although "The Last Picture Show" comes mighty close. It's special; these characters stay in your thoughts long after you turn the final page.

Which is why I remained weary of the book's various sequels and prequels for so many years. I didn't want to return to the characters' lives, fearful that the warm feeling would dim if McMurtry went in a direction I didn't want to follow.

He did exactly that in "Streets of Laredo," but I ended up enjoying the ride anyway. "Dead Man's Walk" and "Comanche Moon" were more successful, although none captured the magic of that first (and best) book.

And now CBS has brought "Comanche Moon" to television as a three-part mini-series. I'll save my review of it until after tonight's final broadcast.

But I must say that it got me thinkin' about Gus and Call, Clara and Maggie, Jake Spoon and Pea Eye Parker, all those beloved characters we first met 20 years ago. Funny, isn't it, how such figments of an author's imagination can hang around all this time, as real as the guy that lives down the street.

No, that's not quite true. In some ways, the one's that really count, Gus and Call and company are old friends.

Through their words and actions I learned something about life and human behavior. And maybe, truth be told, a little about myself too.

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