I believe the words ‘epic’ and ‘sweeping’ were invented for a book like Lonesome Dove. Written in 1985, Lonesome Dove was the first of a series of books by Larry McMurtry that tells the stories of several retired Texas Rangers as they drive a cattle herd from Texas to Montana.
The book opens in 1876 at the Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium in the Texas border town of Lonesome Dove. Captain Augustus McCrae (Gus) and Captain Woodrow Call are retired Texas Rangers who now spend their days drinking, stealing horses and gambling. When Jake Spoon, a charming but lazy acquaintance returns to Lonesome Dove, he raves about the land and riches awaiting in Montana. Gus and Call are persuaded to round up a crew and a herd and head ‘Up North.’
What happens in the next 900 pages could be a stereotypical story of wizened cowboys, naive cowhands and lovelorn women, but McMurtry’s characters are developed so fully and richly. There is love and drama and tragedy but nothing is overwrought. Bad things happen, good things happen, and much like the massive cattle herd, the novel moves on.
I wouldn’t say Lonesome Dove is an easy read. It is long, and there are a lot of characters. Some have a large role in the novel, some you only learn their fates through the stories of the primary characters. But it is a rewarding read, especially if you savor the way the novel seems to perfectly capture the harshness of the era and the fortitude of the people who survived it.