Review: Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtryLarry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

This epic Western tells the story of a group of cowboys who decide to drive a cattle herd from the small town of Lonesome Dove, Texas, to the wilds of Montana. Leading the outfit are former Texas Rangers Woodrow Call and Gus McCrae, whose prowess in fighting Indians has made them legendary throughout the Wild West. They take a small group of cowboys with them on the journey, including several men who served with them when they were the only law in Texas. One woman also accompanies them, a prostitute named Lorena who has fallen in love with one of the cowboys. The book follows this group on its journey north, describing the various perils the cowboys meet along the way, including bad weather, hostile Indians, and a growing despair as they confront more and more suffering.

This is the first Western I’ve ever read, although I’ve seen and enjoyed several John Wayne movies. But I definitely think this was the right novel to start with, as it seems to encapsulate the entire scope of what a Western should be. I was especially impressed with the descriptions of the country, its weather and its wildlife. I honestly did feel transported to another place and time. The character development is also very well done; every person encountered in the book seems clearly delineated, with his (or her) own goals, fears, and desires. In a book this long, so much specificity is quite a feat! I especially enjoyed the depictions of women in the novel; I was amazed to think of what a hard life they must have had in such unsettled, lawless country. My one complaint about the book is that it’s extremely long, which made it hard for me to find the motivation to read it. It’s also quite heartbreaking in places…I don’t want to spoil anything, but a lot of people die throughout the course of the novel. But overall, I was very impressed with this book and would definitely recommend it!

Review: Alice Adams

Booth Tarkington, Alice Adams

This novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921, tells the story of Alice Adams, a young woman who is determined to rise in society. Her father is kind-hearted and hardworking but content to be merely an employee at the factory of J.A. Lamb, the (unnamed) city’s most prominent businessman. He makes a decent salary, but it’s not enough for Alice to be able to mix in high society. Alice and her mother therefore continually badger her father to go into business for himself, which he eventually does — with disastrous consequences. Meanwhile, Alice meets the well-to-do Arthur Russell and immediately determines to marry him so that she can finally be the fine lady she’s always wanted to be.

I found this novel fascinating for several reasons. First, the plot manages to be suspenseful despite the ending’s inevitability; you know things are not going to end well for Alice, but you can’t help turning the pages in horrified fascination. Especially toward the end, when I could really see where things were heading, every terrible decision the Adamses made caused me to squirm. At the same time, I couldn’t help pitying Alice, her father and even her mother. They’re not bad people; they just think they’re entitled to a better lifestyle than they’re used to, and they don’t quite know how to get there. Alice is an especially interesting character. On the one hand, she’s basically a gold-digger, but she at least has enough self-awareness to realize that she’s being shallow. So I did enjoy this book, although in my opinion it’s not as good as Tarkington’s other Pulitzer-winning novel, The Magnificent Ambersons.