By Sorrow’s River – 4/5 Stars
When I reviewed the second book of this quartet I talked about the shifting tone from the first novel. I am more clear that this newer tone, one more serious and gallows at times as opposed to a little too silly, is the better and more suited tone for the novel. I also reviewed the novel Comanche Moon written a few years and I found that tone too mercurial for the subject matter. This one is really starting to nail down the tone, which is both more suited and more logical given the nature of this novel and what seems to be its literary antecedents.
This is a “serious” Western, but it takes place in the more wild and more dangerous era of the West pre-Civil War. This is a time period where the US was less united and Mexico was a more dangerous foe. In this time, many of the potentially dangerous Native American groups had not yet been killed by the US Army or disease. And the technology that made the wholesale slaughters of Native peoples in years to come were just not present or war-tested in the Civil War–repeating rifles, Gatling guns, and the railroads.
So this novel is also a kind of British novel, but more so a kind of early America novel. And it’s mostly a Western, modern version of the James Fenimore Cooper novels, where the frontier (now the Western — well Midwestern — frontier as opposed to upstate New York for Cooper) plays a character role in the novel alongside the people. And because of this presence, but also the length of time involved in this series (they are on a years long hunting expedition) life has to go on. So with the fighting and traveling also comes the love affairs, decisions about marriages, and other concerns.
Folly and Glory – 4/5 Stars
It’s hard to continue to review the book that is basically the same book over and over again, except for minor tone changes. Instead I thought I would talk about what really works about this series and what would make for a really good adaptation of it.
It’s a little too “pornographic” for network or basic cable tv. It is however ripe for adaptation for premiere television like HBO. I bet HBO won’t touch it because they had Deadwood and currently have Westworld and those are both a little too close for comfort. Instead, the best bet would be like a Showtime or Netflix. It’s a good show for those because you’d get no fewer than three seasons out of the books alone, and because of the gameness of the writer himself toward adaptations and this particular work I bet you could get more seasons if you sought them. This final section of the novels is very strong. It really starts to chip away at the assumptions of the Western myth as part of the project of the novels as a whole. The West was insane and dangeorus and violent, but it was never a place in which heroism and valor was won. The novel takes that notion and straight up gives it cholera. Cholera will kill your ass no matter what kind of hero you are. In Moby Dick we have a character who is set, set to become the hero of the novel…to stand up to Ahab like Christian Fletcher in Mutiny on the Bounty and save the day. His name is Bulkington and if you don’t know who I mean that’s because he dies so unceremoniously in the early parts of the novel that he never infects the narrative with anything remotely like heroism. In this novel, we have a few of these characters….one being the newly arrived illegitimate son of Berrybender Jupiter….and splat.
Anyway, the novels should become a series. Tasmin can be played by Lily James….Berrybender can be played by any good older British actor…Sin Killer/Jim Snow can be played by some strapping dark haired hunk in his 20s…and then just round out the series as you can. There’s a lot, a lot of good plot and action to play with.
The Desert Rose – 3/5 Stars
This novel I have decided to read because I want to read longer novels and Larry McMurtry wrote lots of longer novels and my local library has a copy of this novel’s sequel, and it’s 500 pages or so, and this one is short, but it sets me up later on. Also, I am looking to move back into McMurtry’s fiction, especially his contemporary fiction–whether this means contemporary in year published or contemporary in year set. This novel takes place in Las Vegas in the 1970s and is about a 39 year old stripper. You can imagine her position is rather precarious.
What struck me immediately about this novel from the outset is the position of Las Vegas in our collective consciousness as the West in general. I have never been to Las Vegas personally, and in my travels out west, I flew over Tahoe en route to Sacramento and San Francisco and saw lots of episodes of Reno 911 and have seen tons of Las Vegas movies. But! But, do I consider Las Vegas to be The West? I dunno. I don’t mean to deny it its status, but I also don’t think of it much beyond being Las Vegas, if that makes sense.
So anyway, all that said, it’s a solid novel. It’s very early 1980s and reminds me a lot of the straightforward, if cut to the chase, narration of Raymond Carver. It’s not a complex or challenging novel and given Larry McMurtry’s own sense of the novel (he hates it) I am more inclined to be interested in it than he is. Because of my Larry McMurtry kick, I don’t know that I can be trusted with it, but I didn’t hate it, find it interesting, and think it’s worthy of not dismissing it.