And... we're back again. This is the second month for a book club on the front page. We actually stretched out the reading a bit more than a month this time, both because the book was lengthy and because there was some other event that seemed to be consuming a good deal of people's time last week. Though... I can't... seem to recall anything important in the last seven days. Nope.
In any case, it's time to drop in on a small Texas town perched on the north bank of the Rio Grande in the days when there was no plan to build a wall blocking the view.
The town of Lonesome Dove is just about as small as it can get, barely more than a bar and a few surrounding ranches, but in that space there's a high concentration of colorful characters. At the center of this story are two men: Augustus "Gus" McRae and Woodrow "Captain" Call. Both men are retired captains of the Texas Rangers who spent decades fighting outlaws and Indians, but now they have settled into the none too comfortable (or profitable) role of running a ranch in this dusty border town. Between them these two men hatch a plan to do something that hasn't been done, to drive cattle the whole width of the west, to move longhorns (most of which are stolen from Mexican ranchers) all the way to the tall grass prairies of Montana. And almost from the moment they begin to move, the drama, and the tragedy, never flag.
Though there are other characters in the Hat Creek Cattle Company, it's the byplay between Gus and Call that sets the tone. Gus is by far the more playful of the two, but it's stiff-necked Woodrow who bites into the idea of taking this terrific gamble to put everything into a cross-country journey. Why do you think Call (a man otherwise so fixed in his views) seizes on this romantic idea, and why does Gus (who never hesitates to peck at Call's notions) so readily agree?
Just as the two main characters have very different personalities, the two women at the heart of the story also are studies in opposites. Clara Allen declined a proposal from Gus and moved to Nebraska years, if not decades, before the story opens. She's tough, pragmatic, and practical. Lorena "Lori" Wood is a lovely and kind-hearted woman who finds herself forced into prostitution by a cruel lover who then abandons her. Both women have powerful relationships to Gus, and Clara seems to have an instant understanding and fondness for Lori. What similarities do you see in these two women, and how do you think they hold up against the female characters in other McMurtry books such as Terms of Endearment?
Though Gus and Call are at the center of things, the Hat Creek Cattle Company is home to a number of interesting characters. There's "Pea Eye" Parker, who may not come across as the sharpest knife in the drawer but demonstrates both amazing persistence and loyalty. Former slave Josh Deets works for two men who have their share of prejudice, but is deeply respected, especially by Call. Young Newt Dobbs has been raised by these men, and it's very likely that Call is his father, but though Call sets great store in loyalty and responsibility, he never never steps up to claim Newt. There's the shiftless Jake Spoon, whose reappearance in Lonesome Dove is the spark that starts the cattle drive. "Dish" Boggett, whose skills as a cowboy never get him the attention he wants from Lori. Which of these characters draws your attention, and why?
A second plotline is woven through the book, one that only intersects the first as it draws toward a tragic conclusion. What is your feeling toward Sherriff July Johnson and his hapless attempt to retrieve his wayward wife, Elmira?