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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Streets of Laredo by Larry McMurtry. New York: Pocket Books (Simon & Schuster), 1994. ISBN: 0-671-79282-2.

I don't read many westerns, but Larry McMurtry is one of the few authors in this genre that I consider well worth the time. Oh, I confess it was the famous TV miniseries (1990), based on McMurtry's Pulizter Prize winning Lonesome Dove (1985) that got me hooked. Having enjoyed the TV version, I had to read the book. And once I'd read the book, I was hooked on McMurtry, for the Lonesome Dove saga, at least. McMurtry is one of those authors I probably ought to read more of, but just haven't managed to find the time, somehow.

McMurtry wrote 2 prequels to Lonesome Dove, Dead Man's Walk (1990) and Comanche Moon (1998), but in between them, he gave us the sequel, Streets of Laredo. The action takes place more than 20 years after the events of Lonesome Dove, when the aging Captain Call, now in his seventies, is sent by the railroad to capture or otherwise remove the dangerous young Mexican, Joey Garza, who has taken up the pastime of robbing trains.

Call is too old for this kind of adventure by now, and although he refuses to admit it at the beginning, he does by the end. Other characters include a tenderfoot Brooklyn accountant, assigned by his railroad magnate boss to ride herd on Call. Then there is Call's old deputy (old in the sense of from way back, not aged), Pea Eye, now married and raising a passle of kids with the lovely Lorena, former whore, now a school teacher. Lorena herself comes in for plenty of action, and is well contrasted with Maria, Joey Garza's mother, both very strong women in their own way.

This was the second time I read Streets of Laredo, but these are all books worth reading more than once. It's hard to describe how he does it, but McMurtry draws you in, and once you've been captured by his prose, you can't shake loose. You are interested in his characters from the get go, and before long, you genuinely care about them and their fates. He has a laconic method of getting inside his characters' heads and letting you know what they are thinking that oughtn't to work, but does, somehow.

Of course, not everyone agrees with me. I found a note stuck in the library copy I was reading that says "If you can read, and enjoy, this 'book,' go for it—says I. (I read to page 64, and I deserve a medal.)" This reminds me of something I read recently, to the effect that if you're under 50, you owe it to any book to read at least 50 pages, before giving up on it. If you're over 50, a formula was provided which allowed you to read less pages depending on how much older you are. For the life of me, I can't remember where I read this.

For most of my life, I have been fairly resolute when it comes to reading books. If I start one, I finish it. There aren't very many books that I found sufficiently off-putting to lay them down once started. However, the older I get, the less tolerance I have for books that don't meet my expectation, and I have recently resolved, as this person suggests, not to feel obligated to finish a book just because I started it. My point being that books, like food, are an individual thing. When I say, "That tastes great!" translate "I like it." When I praise a book, it means I liked it, not necessarily that you will.

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