Horseman Passed By

Larry McMurtry, 84, died on March 25. I discovered him at my neighborhood library, when I grabbed a soft-cover copy of Lonesome Dove and thought, “I will never read this.” For one thing, it’s hefty — weighing in at over 850 pages — and it’s a western. And, as it turns out, the standard to which I hold all other novels. Lonesome Dove won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986, and was a finalist for such literary awards as the Pen/Faulkner. In my mind, the fact that McMurtry didn’t sweep that year is more of an indictment on the judges than the author.

He left a staggering collection of fiction, essays, memoirs and screenplays — including “Brokeback Mountain,” a story written by Annie Proulx, for which he won an Oscar. In 2014, he received the National Humanities Medal. When honoring his body of work, the National Endowment for the Humanities stated that McMurtry evoked “the character and drama of the American West with stories that examine quintessentially American lives.” McMurtry was the ultimate storyteller, and his characters are wistful and unapologetically honest. If you haven’t met them, get acquainted. Me, I think it’s time to visit old friends.

Horseman, Pass By
Hoof and mouth disease and the resulting extermination of the cattle herd cements the rift between an honorable rancher and his hard-drinking, womanizing son Hud. Paul Newman embraces the role of Hud in the film version of the same name.

The Last Kind Words Saloon
In his last novel, McMurtry had fun weaving legendary gunfights and outlaws through what he called “a ballad of prose” featuring Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. Some might consider it a farcical buddy story. Either way, McMurtry had the last laugh.  

Lonesome Dove
Epic and masterful, this book will appeal to anyone who loves a good story beautifully told. The resulting mini-series, starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones, captures the novel perfectly.

The Last Picture Show
Three kids on the cusp of adulthood wrestle with getting gone or staying put in their dying Texas town. Brilliantly adapted to film by Peter Bogdanovich, it netted Academy Awards for Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman.

Terms of Endearment
Few writers portray women as well as McMurtry. Whether the story or the film, keep a supply of tissues handy.

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