If I didn't think it would bore you to tears, I would sit here and blog all day about my very favorite novel in the history of novel-making, Larry McMurtry's masterpiece Lonesome Dove. Inside the cover of this magical book is everything a bibliophile could every want in a story: nearly a thousand pages of epic adventure, heart-breaking tragedy, soaring triumph, poignant love, desperate loss, and - above all - the sacred bond of friendship, all set smack dab in the Old West.
I'm not alone in my near worship of McMurtry. Not only did Lonesome Dove earn him a Pulitzer Prize, but he has long been universally acknowledged as the reigning king of the American Western Novel, despite many of his better known works - including Terms of Endearment and The Last Picture Show - being set in 20th-century Texas.
But when he does choose to write about the Old West, readers sit up and take notice. Such is the case this week with the release of THE LAST KIND WORDS SALOON, a novel about the last days of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday - an infamous duo if ever there were. Those looking for an epic read along the lines of Lonesome Dove will be disappointed. McMurtry instead chose to pursue realism in his portrait of the most famous of the Earp brothers and his erstwhile, alcoholic friend Holliday. Doing so required sparseness, as indeed there little of note to either man's life, despite the legends that later grew up around them. As McMurtry noted in a recent interview:
"Wyatt didn't do much of anything except drink and pester his wife and run around," he says. "He didn't do anything remarkable his whole life, ever."
And The Last Kind Words Saloon goes to great pains to convey this in it's very brevity.
Still, McMurtry can't conceal his trademark wit which usually has a way of showing up in dialog ("I need to travel with someone better educated," Wyatt said. "There are few subjects you can even discuss intelligently.") when you least expect it. While his characters may have acerbic banter, their actions are considerably less humorous. Earp regularly beats his wife, while Holliday fares slightly better if only because he doesn't drag another human being down with him.
The climax of any novel involving Earp and Holliday, of course, is the infamous shoot-out at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. Countless books have been written and movies have been filmed on this historic event and McMurtry fans will likely be holding their collective breath waiting to see how the Master handles such an iconic American West moment.
Release your breath.
The entire event takes less than two pages.
And this, I can tell you right now, is going to have fans gathering their own posse for some vigilante reader justice. Before everyone grabs their pitchforks, it's helpful to consider history versus myth. The actual shootout at the OK Corral lasted about 30 seconds. 30 seconds. It's significance has been blown so far out of proportion in the ensuing 140 years that the actual event has been lost to history. McMurtry's brevity is a stark reminder.
Should you be reading The Last Kind Words Saloon? Absolutely. But don't read it for the shoot-out at the OK Corral. Read it for the pleasure of McMurtry giving you the real Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Read it for the real American West. Read it.
Title: The Last Kind Words Saloon
Author: Larry McMurtry
Date: May 7, 2014
Source: Courtesy of Publisher