America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 39-40.

 

McMurtry, Larry.  Lonesome Dove.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.

One of the most prolific American novelists of the postwar period, Larry McMurtry has explored the history and culture of the West from the frontier era to the current period.  He has skillfully spun sequels and prequels from his many of his novels.  Thus, his body of work contains a number of cycles, some seemingly preconceived and some improvised after the publication of the focal work.

One of McMurtry’s most honored and popular works has been Lonesome Dove, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize, the Spur Award from Western Writers of America, and the Texas Literary Award from Southwestern Booksellers Association.  A bulky novel of broad scope, Lonesome Dove is over 800 pages long.  Because it could not be adapted meaningfully to a feature film, it instead became the basis for an acclaimed television miniseries with a truly “all-star” cast.  It briefly revived the Western on television, after several decades in which it has seemed a dated form for the medium.  The popularity of the novel and of this adaptation led McMurtry to produce a sequel–Streets of Laredo (1993)–and two prequels—Dead Man’s Walk (1995) and Commanche Moon (1997)—each approaching the size of Lonesome Dove.  That these works received even mixed reviews is testimony to McMurtry’s gifts as a storyteller.

Lonesome Dove focuses on the brief period in which the cattle drives from south Texas to the Kansas railheads became a defining episode in the history of the American West and of America as a whole.  In countering the popular myths that have developed around the cattle drives as a result of their simplistic and sentimental representations in dime novels, popular Western novels, and Western serial films, McMurtry regenerates the core myths of the frontier that inherent to the experience of those who participated in the drives.

 

McMurtry, Larry.  Anything for Billy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.

In the Lonesome Dove cycle, Larry McMurtry has transcended the ahistorical popular myths of the West and has regenerated the core myths of the frontier. But, in another, ongoing cycle of novels, he has offered a grimly comic, revisionist appraisal of some of the figures most bastardized by the makers of the popular myths.  Thus far, this cycle includes Anything for Billy (1988) and Buffalo Girls (1990).

Anything for Billy offers a characterization of Billy the Kid that so works against expectations that some reviewers found it perversely self-indulgent.  Certainly, McMurtry’s Billy the Kid is nothing like the romantic anti-hero of the films The Outlaw and The Left-Handed Gun.  But he does not even resemble the revisionist portrayals of the outlaw in the films Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Young Guns, or even the tormented, hyper-responsive voice of Michael Ondaatje’s experimental novel, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid.

Anything for Billy is narrated by Benjamin Sippy, who has long retreated into the fantasy heroics of the dime novels in order to briefly escape his tyrannical wife and their nine demanding daughters.  Eventually, he convinces himself that his destiny is to be found in the West, where he hopes to become one of the gunfighters glorified by the dime novelists and the hack journalists.  Of course, when Sippy does finally desert his family and go West, he quickly discovers just how dangerous it is to pose as a gunfighter.

At his low ebb, Sippy meets Bill Bone, a physically and emotionally deformed self-caricature who has somehow managed to secure a reputation as a gunfighter even though he has never fired a gun at anyone, never mind killed anyone.  Bone soon takes up a shotgun, which does allow him to kill at close range and requires none of the skills associated with drawing a pistol from a holster.  And as Billy Bone begins his killing spree, Sippy transforms his ugly bloodletting into the formulaically fantastic stuff of dime novels that he now aspires to write, rather than inspire.  Sippy begins by renaming Billy Bone, giving him the much more euphonious and romantically connotative name, Billy Bonney.  The rest, as they say, is not history.

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Previous Posts in This Series:

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 1-2: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/10/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-1-2/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 3-5: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/16/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-3-5/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 6-8: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/20/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-6-8/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 9-11: https://academeblog.org/2014/10/04/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-9-11/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 12-14: https://academeblog.org/2014/10/12/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-12-14/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 15-17: https://academeblog.org/2014/10/21/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-15-17/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 18-20: https://academeblog.org/2014/11/02/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-18-20/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 21-23: https://academeblog.org/2014/11/09/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-21-23/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 24-26: https://academeblog.org/2014/11/23/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-24-26/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 27-29: https://academeblog.org/2014/12/25/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-27-29/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 30-32: https://academeblog.org/2015/01/19/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-30-32/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 33-35: https://academeblog.org/2015/02/05/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-33-35/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 36-38: https://academeblog.org/2015/03/10/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-36-37/

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Posts in the Previous Series:

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 1-3: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-1-3/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 4-5: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/31/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-4-5/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 6-7: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/01/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-6-7/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 8-10: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/04/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-8-10/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 11-13: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/06/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-11-13/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 14-16: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/11/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-14-16/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 17-19: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/18/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-17-19/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 20-22: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/25/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-20-22/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 23-25: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/07/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-23-25/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 26-29: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/11/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-26-29/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 30-32: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/23/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-30-32/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 33: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/29/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-33/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 34-36: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/10/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-34-36/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 37-39: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/15/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-37-39/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 40-42: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/21/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-40-42/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 43-45: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/23/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-43-45/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 46-48: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/26/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-46-48/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 49-50: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-49-50/

 

 

6 thoughts on “America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 39-40.

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