Saturday, September 27, 2014

'The Last Kind Words Saloon'

It's been a while since I read a western novel.  The last, I believe, was 'True Grit', written by Charles Portis.  I reread that novel every now and then.

When I learned that one of my favorite western novelists, the great Larry McMurtry, had written 'The Last Kind Words Saloon', I had to settle down and give it a go. I love his books, be they contemporary or set in the old west.  I prefer his westerns because he paints such a stark canvas.  He writes so well of the base emotions of the human animal, and the exchanges between the men and women are so well played.  I especially love the fact that McMurtry's women are strong, intelligent and can take care of themselves.

I still kick myself because I didn't buy a first print/first edition of his masterpiece, 'Lonesome Dove'.  I was managing a Waldenbooks when the book first appeared, and I borrowed a copy.  Couldn't put it down.  But I didn't buy it.  Book Hog hangs her head every time she hears that title mentioned, or as she runs through the list of Pulitzer Prize winners. If I could kick my own ass, I would. 

'The Last Kind Words Saloon' is a quick read, but effective, nonetheless.  With his mastery of simple words and blunt emotions, McMurtry brings us the tale of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, and Charlie Goodnight, one of the memorable characters from 'Comanche Moon'.  And there is also Nellie Courtright, the irrepressible heroine from 'Telegraph Days'.

It is near the closing of the American frontier, and Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are whiling away their time in Long Grass, Texas by drinking, whoring, and contemplating their next move.  Jessie, Wyatt's wife, is the bartender at the Last Kind Words Saloon, which is owned by his brother.  It is in the midst of their boredom that Lord Ernle, a wealthy English baron, comes to town accompanied by his companion, the beautiful San Saba. Lord Ernle is set on becoming a cattle baron and becomes business partners with Charlie Goodnight.

Tracing the friendship of Doc and Wyatt from the town of Long Grass to Buffalo Bill's Wild West show in Denver, the tale finally ends in Tombstone, Arizona, site of the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a novel quickly read, but it contains McMurtry's vivid imagery and blatant sexuality.  My only beef is that the chapters were too damn short.  Which means, fellow reader, that the book wasn't long enough. We can perhaps blame McMurtry's love of book collecting (he does own a famous book store in Archer, Texas), something that probably takes up a lot of his time.  But many famous writers have written short novels; an idea gets lodged in their brains and it begs to be released, even if it's only a few short chapters.  

Author Larry McMurtry
I can't get upset about the length of the novel; I love it and appreciate it.  But, still.....

Perhaps someday, Mr. McMurtry will take us back to the days of the Texas Rangers, when they were young and hotheaded and vital.

Before they grew old and quietly witnessed the death of the Old West.

'The Last Kind Words Saloon' is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-0-87140-786-3

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