LONESOME DOVE, BY LARRY MCMURTRY
Fiction: Western. Pocket Books (1985). 945 pp.
Westerns seem to be a dying genre, unfortunately. In fact, up until Lonesome Dove came up on the Book Roulette, I had never read one before. And yet it's such a great genre to read. this book, especially, is considered one of the best westerns ever written. It's an epic -- full of adventure, love, goodness and evil, and brotherhood. And, in reading through it, I recognized three takeaways that can serve as good lessons to writers.
All of the characters in this story have endearing qualities, and all have very real flaws. Augustus is not a hero -- he does not ride in on a white horse to save the day and put righteousness above all. But he is a good man. He may be one of my favorite characters in literature -- he's certainly my favorite character in this book. I love the pain McMurtry brings to him, the loneliness and the rough edges. I love the relationship he has with his men, and the relationship he develops with Lorena. Each relationship shows a different side to him, and without any of these plot arcs I think he would just be another character in a cannon of literature. Adding the love story, the brotherhood, the challenges, etc., allowed me to get the full sense of who he is.
It's important to note here that the best characters still have their flaws. Just as we are not perfect, neither are our characters. they are both vulnerable and strong. They are both righteous and sinful. They are both beautiful and ugly. Allowing these sides of our characters to come through -- in the relationships they have with the others in the story, creates well-rounded individuals and allows our readers to relate to them better.
Additionally, allowing the characters to endure such brutal challenges makes their survival and redemption much more powerful. The highs and the lows must balance in order to create the maximum impact. And McMurtry is able to create such a redemptive story in part because he includes violence in the way he does.
It's not always an easy book to read, and I don't think it's supposed to be. But it's got a lot to offer in lessons to a reader. Reading stories like Lonesome Dove reminds me of what my English teacher said in high school: Every book has something to teach us. Reading these books and finding these lessons reminds me of why I started blogging and why I write about writing and publishing. I hope it also makes me into a better writer.