I wish Bonfire of the Vanities were a pill I could simply swallow with a mouthful of Tang. I'd like to have read the book, but I'm not so sure I want to have the experience of actually reading it. Ditto Gravity's Rainbow and Infinite Jest. I'm sure they're good, maybe even great, but I'm also sure of something else: They're really, really long.
I have to take a book's length into consideration because of a double-whammy curse I live with. I'm a slllllllloooooooow reader and I change my mind a lot. Which means it takes me two or three weeks to get through a typical novel, and round about Day 14 there's a good chance I'll be thinking to myself, "You know what I'd really like to be reading right now? Something else." The fact that I actually finished Atlas Shrugged once upon a time is a miracle on the order of walking on water.
So it's pretty rare for me to pick up a 1,000-page book. It's even more rare for me to pick up a 1,000-page book with the intention of reading it. (In the first example I was just picking up the 1,000-page book because it was sitting on top of the 300-page book I actually wanted to read.)
I've been on a Western kick lately, though, watching obscure (but really good!) old oaters like Man of the West and Day of the Outlaw and reading a lot of non-fiction about violence and crime on the frontier. So I decided it was finally time to bite the bullet (a .44-40 Winchester in this case) and try my luck with what's probably the most successful and acclaimed Western novel of my lifetime: Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove.
If you saw my last blog post, you already know what I think of it. If you didn't see my last blog post, where have you been, pal? We've missed you!
Oh, and I love Lonesome Dove. Love love love it -- even after working on it for three weeks and still having 400 pages to go. It's a little head-hoppy, but the continually shifting POV doesn't bother me. In fact, I think it's partially responsible for the book's great strength: its humanity.
At one point or another (and sometimes without much warning), we pop into the head of nearly every character in the novel. And what we find there is always recognizably human. Which is to say everyone has understandable reasons for their choices (or failure to choose), has blind spots that grow from their inborn natures and are plagued by self doubt (or aren't when they should be).
[An interesting exception: McMurtry doesn't let us peek into the thoughts of the novel's most irredeemable villains, who tend to be men who seem to act with absolutely no uncertainty or introspection. Will we ever get a passage from Blue Duck's point of view? I'm wondering....]
So what's happened in the book so far? Well, some old Texas Rangers decided to drive a herd of cattle to Montana, and once they got started people started dying. Plotwise, that's about it. A Luke Short would've zipped through the whole story -- and thrown in an Indian upraising to boot -- in less than 200 pages.
But I don't care, because it's not the plot that keeps me coming back night after night. It's those characters. They feel so alive to me it actually breaks my heart when they die. It's been a long, long time since a book made me cry, but when CENSORED, REDACTED and SPOILER ALERT!!! were killed by 'NUFF SAID, I had tears running down my cheeks. Really! Macho, super-manly me!*
[*For the record: This is sarcasm. I'm a complete wimp.]
I still have weeks to go before I'm done with Lonesome Dove, but I'm not worried that I'll lose interest and start pining for something, anything else to read. In fact, I have such great confidence in McMurtry and Lonesome Dove at this point, I just ordered a copy of the sequel, Streets of Laredo.
It's nearly 600 pages long...and that doesn't scare me at all.