Oh Lonesome Dove, Where Have You Gone??

Lonesome Dove is my all time favorite novel.

That needs to be established up front. It’s also my all time favorite screen adaptation of a novel.

I really like Lonesome Dove!

And when Larry McMurtry followed up with well crafted and exciting sequels and prequels; “Commanche Moon”, “Streets of Laredo” and “Dead Man’s Walk”, he succeeded in making Texas Rangers Augustus McCRae and Woodrow F. Call two of the most interesting, compelling and vividly drawn fictional characters in all of modern literature.

In the years since the last of the “Lonesome Dove” series I’ve really wanted Larry McMurtry to at least maintain, if not build on the foundation he had created.

Alas, it hasn’t happened.

I’m currently three quarters of the way through “The Berrybender Narratives”, a four-volume series by McMurtry that I had hoped would revive at least some, if not all of the magic his previous efforts inspired.

To put it bluntly, “The Berrybender Narratives” are terrible!

I read the first installment and was so unimpressed, I told myself to stop there and go no further. But, I was convinced that McMurtry was just whetting my appetite in the way that “Lonesome Dove” itself took a good while to really get rolling and to become the enthralling epic western classic that I came to love!

So, I got the second volume and labored through it only to find that none of the characters became any more interesting, nor did the general plot gain any particular momentum.

Now that I’m almost finished with volume three, I can see that McMurtry tries to succeed … he really does … perhaps too hard. He fills these books with dozens of characters and he labors mightily to provide a cast of heros and villains who might possibly generate the level of entertainment of practically every character big and small, good and evil that seemed to populate the great stories he put out in the late 90s and early 80s.

Sadly, there appears to be a limit to just how far even a talented author can take a storyline and even a genre.

McMurtry seems to have reached his limit.

As I labor through “The Berrybender Narratives”, the feeling is almost palpable that McMurtry is desperately trying to paint heros and villains for us who are as flawed, and yet admirable as Gus and Call were, and as nasty and despicable as Blue Duck and Buffalo Hump were.

He wants to provide us a plucky heroine possessed with the combined qualities of both Clara and Lorena. But while we respected Clara for her self-reliance and steadfast devotion and we felt deeply for Lorena for her sad hopelessness and grief-generated loyalty, in Tasmin Berrybender we get a female who is so irritatingly self-centered and unlikeable that we find ourselves wishing she’d meet with some sort of harm or at least ill-treatment.

I readily admit … I have not finished with “The Berrybender Narratives” and I plan to stick it out in spite of my conviction that it will get worse rather than better. I cannot imagine what could possibly happen in the fourth volume to redeem this story or these characters.

Unlike “Loneome Dove” and any of the followup’s I really do not particular care what happens to any of the Berrybender clan or their entourage. All of the Berrybender’s are obnoxious whiners. All of the frontiersmen are irritating stereotypes. None of the villains are particularly frightening. There is currently a plague of small pox running rampant and it would not bother me greatly if it wiped out the entire group.

Even so, I will finish the series because for some strange reason I am constitutionally unable to give up on a book or a story until I see it to the end.

I’m determined now to finish the entire thing.

In a couple of weeks I would dearly love to have an update that will turn this blog entry on it’s head. I truely hope that in the final of the four volumes everything comes together.

But, I just don’t see it happening.

In fact, I’m not even afraid of someone who has actually finished these books providing a spoiler for me. Go ahead. Tell me how this thing ends! Provide me with hope, or put me out of my misery. Tell me what you think!

It won’t stop me from finishing … but it may mercifully lower my expectations to a level at which I won’t keep turning pages with any particular urgency or anticipation.

I need to be stronger. I need to just cut my losses and quit! But, somehow, I cannot.

Life’s really too short to keep on reading books that stink. I can’t fully explain my inability to put this story down.

More in a couple of weeks …

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About Judson

Late bloomer ... aspiring writer and musician.
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8 Responses to Oh Lonesome Dove, Where Have You Gone??

  1. nrhatch says:

    I’ve never read any of the books in question, so I can’t help you other than by sharing my current philosophy on reading:

    In my younger years, if I started a book, I finished it. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. It didn’t matter if I had borrowed the book from a friend, received it as a gift, checked it out of the library, or purchased it for myself: once started, I read through to the sometimes bitter end.

    That is no longer the case. If an author hasn’t hooked me in the first 25-50 pages, I close the cover and turn my attention to another book . . . without regret

    * Unlike turning away (mid-sentence) from a tedious speaker, returning an unappealing book to the shelf unread is not rude.

    * Unless someone is holding a gun to my head, or I’m being compensated for my time, I see no reason to keep turning pages that offer me nothing in return.

    * No longer a dewy-eyed optimist, I refuse to believe that tedious writing, ill-formed characters, and laborious story lines will transform themselves if I forge ahead.

    * Slogging through swamp water to reach a distant destination holds little appeal. I no longer expect to be surprised by a satisfactory ending after a dismal start.

    * Why should a book (we are not enjoying) be more deserving of our time and attention than the book (we will adore) that’s still waiting on the shelf for us to find?

    * An imaginary obligation to its author (Just because we happened to pick it up first) seems a poor justification for finishing what we’ve started.

    In reading, like life, the journey matters more (to me) than the destination. I refuse to plod along a rocky road riddled with potholes solely to satisfy my curiosity about an unseen destination which may not be worth the trek.

    Reading either benefits the reader, or no one. Every book out there wants to be read, but we can’t read them all. It pays to be selective and be dictated solely by our own preferences.

  2. First, let me applaud your devotion to a favorite author. A writer cannot expect a greater gift than a reader who hungers after the next bool.
    Second, let me suggest that if the book doesn’t deliver in the first chapter, your kindness may be too generous. Readiing audiences no longer have the patience they once did. They’re used to Movies and TV capturing them within moments, and then carrying them along with clever dialogue, strong characters, and compelling action. If these elements are not available in the first chapter, in the first half of the book, in the full first book itself, the author cannot expect a reader to continue reading.

  3. territerri says:

    I’m really glad to read the first two comments here. I think my favorite books of all time were Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, and World Without End. LOVED them. So when he came out with Fall of Giants, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I’ve started the book twice now and made it through several chapters and I hate it. It’s boring. I have no idea how the characters are connected to one another. There’s no “grab” in this book. I’ve put it aside. Maybe in a few months, my mood will change and I’ll be able to get through it.

    Can’t wait to see what your final opinion is on the Berrybenders. But I have a feeling I know how this one’s going to end!

  4. Judson says:

    I read and enjoyed “Pillars of the Earth” and looked forward to “World Without End”, but for some reason still haven’t started it. On you advice, I’ll avoid “Fall of Giants” …

  5. I agree they are not even close to being as good as the Lonesome Dove series, but The Berrybender Narratives was a good read. Everyone in the books was flawed in some way which made it interesting. My biggest complaint about McMurtry as I have started Lonesome dove once again is he really must have forgot what he wrote in it. when he wrote Comanche Moon he changed alot of stuff around. Austin was the town where Maggie died instead of Lonesome Dove. the rangers were never stationed or live in Lonesome Dove which was no even anything yet by the end of Comanche moon. Jake Spoon and Gus were never rivals for Clara Allen and Jake was never really an effective Texas ranger as he was talked about in Lonesome Dove. There were never any of the battles that were talked about in Lonesome Dove. I know it was awhile back when he wrote this, but it still feels like some very big errors to make. But just like George Lucas I am forgiving because I love both of there amazing stories. I he would have separated Comanche into 2 books though. It seemed to be kind of rushed. It easily could have been as many pages as Lonesome Dove.

    • Judson says:

      The “Lonesome Dove” related books were all magic for me. I need to go back and check for some of the inconsistencies you point out. Sadly, I found the Berrybender’s to be annoying rather than entertaining.

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