An Oscar and a Pulitzer
Larry McMurtry is the American artist crowned by his enormous success as both a novelist and a screenwriter. He is a name that is not widely known, at least as much as he deserves, yet I could bet anyone reading this that they have watched or read one of his works. It is nigh impossible otherwise given his award shelf holds both an Oscar Award and a Pulitzer!
He was an American artist to the core, he wrote only about the United States and the Wild West. He was born near Wichita Falls in Texas on June 1936. His family was country people and he spent his childhood in his parents’ and grandfather’s ranches. They were not really big on written literature but Larry says they would gather around every night and share stories.
Best Larry McMurtry Books
Larry McMurty’s Lonesome Dove series is perhaps the most well-known written work of his. Not only does it include the best selling Larry McMurty books, but the first book in the series was the piece that earned the author his Pulitzer Prize. There are no shared narratives between the six pieces in the series, but they all tell the stories of two Texas Rangers.
One of the most popular Larry McMurty books, Deadman’s Walk is the third book of the series but the first one in internal chronology. Its name totally encompasses what it is about, walking and dying. We are introduced to Augustus “Gus” McCrae and Woodrow F. Call, the two main characters of the series. More so, we are allowed to witness the intertwining of their lives as they are placed in the same campaign to walk through the Southwest of North America.
Crossroad in a Cowboy’s Life
The story of Comanche Moon picks up a bit further than where Deadman’s Walk left us with. The Texas Ranger duo is well past their youth but they show no signs of cutting out adventuring. Adding this on top of the fact that they have women in their lives now, they are pretty stacked up. All these aspects lead me to think that this is a book about the crossroad the “cowboys” of that age would eventually come to; will they settle down for an easier life or will they persist?
First in publication order of Larry McMurty Lonesome Dove series, we have the titular and Pulitzer-awarded book, Lonesome Dove. It is a love and war story taking place at the end of the era known as the Wild West, specifically the mid-to-late 1970s. We follow along with Gus and Woodrow as they keep the people of the new county named Lonesome Dove safe from both outsiders and themselves. Against them are Mexicans, Indians, ruffians, and criminals that populate the settlement.
Far From Piece
The last book of the series in terms of internal timeline and the second in publication order is the Streets of Laredo, one of the best selling books of Larry Mcmurty. This story starts off with half the number of main characters compared to the first one. Their partnership is of old and Woodrow makes a living for himself as a bounty hunter. And even though his journey in the Mexican frontier has ended, he’s far from being at peace.
Lonesome Dove is wild and western to the core. It not only deals with your usual morally gray criminal and hero story but it also includes more in-depth narratives about controversial love and long-standing friendship. The range of the author when it comes to creating different characters is simply impressive. What I liked the most however is that the main characters’ progress through the book was as natural as can be. An excellent series consisting of only the top-quality Larry McMurty books.
Next up in our Larry McMurty book list, I will give you my thoughts on the Houston Series books. The novelist moved to Houston in his twenties. There, he would attend Rice University and eventually become an educator in its English department. He seems to have thoroughly loved the university and he mentioned it as his intellectual home. And in this series, he gives us six intertwining tales involving the city he adored.
The first book of Larry McMurtry’s Houston series is “Moving On”, the story of Patsy Carpenter. The setting is one we are very familiar with, Patsy is stuck in a dead marriage and wants to get out. More so, she feels she does not have a driving force in her life. So, she does maybe the only sensible thing and gets away from all of it.
To Run Away or to Hold Tight
“All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers” is yet another story of getting away. We have a young novelist living in Houston named Danny Deck who seems to be doing pretty good with his life. However, whether out of fear, confusion, or lack of experience, Danny deserts his life in the city just as his career is about to triumph. What follows is a melancholic and humorous journey in which the protagonist strives to find meaning and beauty in life
Next up in the series is one of the best rated Larry McMurtry books and an Oscar winner with its movie adaptation, “Terms of Endearment”. It is the story of a mother and her daughter that leaves you astonished with the fact that a man wrote it. I do not want to spoil too much about the book for you but with its excellent characterization and gripping story, it is one of the best Lary McMurtry novels out there.
“Somebody’s Darling” is a story of Hollywood and the infamous perverts that are a part of it. The woman we follow the story along with, Jill Peel is known by the public as a one-shot wonder. She won an Oscar just as she got into Hollywood and seemingly disappeared for twenty years. When the story picks up, however, we see a Jill who is getting together an exceptionable team for a new movie she will be directing.
Not so Innocent
“Some Can Whistle” tells us the story of Tyler Rose, daughter of Danny Deck. The Danny in this book is a lot different than the naive and worried boy we know of. He has had enormous success both as a writer, in the movie industry, and in TV. Young Tyler Rose drops like a rocket into his eccentric, careless life with her wild attitude and two children.
The last of what is maybe the best Larry McMurty series is “The Evening Star”. It is not just a singular story but an account of what life did to some of the characters previously handled in the series. It is not really a depressing or tragedic book as much as it is a sad one. Irreversible events have taken place and the characters suffered through irreparable heartbreaks.
The Last Picture Show is the first “traditional” series I will go over in this Larry McMurtry book reviews list. All five books follow a single character, Duane Moore, through different stages of his life. It is to be mentioned that although this is a series about a single protagonist, other characters play reoccurring and important roles as well. Another big pointer is every single book is almost completely different from the others in terms of tone and focus.
First of these Larry McMurty books in chronological order is the titular novel “The Last Picture Show”. The focus of the story is on three teenagers who are on the verge of adulthood; Duane, Sonny, and Jacy. What the book puts more emphasis on however is the bleak setting of 50s Texas and the sometimes wholesome, sometimes disturbing journey of discovering love and sexuality as a teenager.
Following the first one, we have another one of the best books by Larry McMurtry. “Texasville” picks up about twenty years after the initial story’s ending. The trio has moved on with their lives. Duane is living somewhat comfortably yet with a lot of debt, Sonny owns some small businesses, and Jacy is a small-time movie star in foreign cinema. All of them got more or less what they wanted in their teens. Still, dreams are brighter than reality.
The third book in the series is pretty self-explanatory with its title “Duane’s Depressed”. The thing with depression is that it can be a real creep sometimes. Without someone really caring for us to notice, we can go years and even decades in its grasp until we notice it. That is exactly what happens to Duane and he only comes to terms with accepting it at sixty-two.
The Closing Curtains
Next up in the series there is “When the Light Goes”. It is the shortest book of the series with a page number of about two hundred. It focuses on Duane’s wife Karla’s unfortunate passing that took place in the last book. The protagonist seems to have gotten out of the grip of depression and we follow along as he relearns how to live and process the loss he has suffered at the same time.
“Rhino Ranch” is the last book of the series and in my opinion the furthest one from being the best Lary McMurty book. The story kicks off with the old man Duane finally realizing he is coming closer to an end and the town of Thalia potentially becoming a completely different one. There are some additional themes taken from the previous books in the series but they feel as though they were put there without a thought and just because.
Larry McMurty loves creating in-depth characters and just letting life happen to them as it would. I think The Last Picture Show is an attempt to see how far would this be able to go just on a single character. It might have been a little too much though. This is all my personal opinion but the last two books really felt unasked for and forced.
Thalia, the setting which McMurtry uses in almost all of his work was modeled after his childhood home Archer City. The setting is early to mid-1950s and the novelist makes it very clear that the series is a monument to the dying cowboy era. The series itself is a trilogy composed of the first and also some of the best Larry McMurtry novels. Is it the best Larry McMurtry book series though? Let’s take a look.
First, we have the best rated of these three Larry McMurty books, “Horseman, Pass By”. It is the story of the elderly cattleman Homer Bannon and his stepson Hud. Homer is a man of old and he respects the values of old, especially the values upheld in the frontier. Hud does not really believe in or even care for anything but himself. In the middle of this inevitable father-son rivalry is Homer’s grandson Loonie who surprisingly admires them both.
Two Men, One Woman
The second of Larry McMurtry’s books in publication order is “Leaving Cheyenne”. Leaving Cheyenne is a book with unexpected narrative techniques given the novelist prefers a more flat approach. The story is told from the perspective of three characters which includes their experiences, secrets, and dreams. It has a similar array of characters to The Last Picture Show with there being one woman and two men who are in love with her.
The trilogy comes to a close with the piece fans dub as the best Larry McMurtry book, “The Last Picture Show”. Do not get it wrong, only the standalone book is included in the trilogy and this is not a case of a sub-series. I have gone over the piece previously in the article but the way it fits in with the other two books of the trilogy is interesting too. Larry takes the impressionable and still-exploring type of characters from the first book and puts them in a setting similar to the second one.
Finding a Voice
I would say Texas, Thalia is a great introduction to the novelist’s work and to Western Literature as a whole. The stories are familiar enough and the characters feel very real even though they are not exactly likable or relatable in certain situations. The novels are not the best works of Larry McMurty but they are his firsts so the trilogy gives us a pretty good angle of the author while he was trying to find his voice and determine his style.
We are ending this Larry McMurtry books ranked with the four-piece The Berrybender Narratives Series. It tells us the tale of an aristocratic English family as they make their way through the Western regions of North America during the frontier. The series is fairly new compared to the other work of the western author we have gone over and includes the latest Larry McMurtry book in the article.
The first book of the new Larry Mcmurtry series is the “Sin Killer”. Set in the 1830s, it watches over the Lord and Lady Berrybender and their children as they explore the wild, uncharted continent starting with the Missouri River. The title of the book actually comes from a character included in the book, an Indian fighter and preacher with the same nickname that the family meets during their journey
Winters in the Frontier
The story kicks up once again with the second book “The Wandering Hill”. When the steamboat of Berrybenders gets stuck in snow and ice, they have no option but to make their way inwards once again. While the family decides to spend the season in the Pierre Boisdeffre trading post at a diversion of the Missouri River, the biggest Berrybender sibling is carrying the child of her partner Sin Killer.
“By Sorrow’s River” is the third book of the series and also the beginning of Berrybender’s proper exploration of America. They aim to get past the Great Plains in the hopes of spending the next winter in the more forgiving and comfortable Santa Fe. However, they will soon discover that although the plains sound empty, they are not at all devoid of life as they meet with some of American history’s legends and horrors.
Finishing the series and also this article is the new Larry McMurty book “Folly and Glory”. The land of opportunity is changing. Instead of tents and camps, small towns and organized farms begin to be the dominant scenery of the lands. Nobody in the English family and not even the friends they made on the continent has any clue where they should be going next. More so, the relationship between the big sister Tasmin and Sin Killer seems to be shaking.
The Berrybender Narratives holds some of the best novels by Larry McMurty under its roof and as a whole, it is an impressive account of life during the first decades of the American Expedition. This makes it a very appetizing work for Americans but I am afraid it may not hit the same spot with people not interested in the subject. Besides that, it is an excellent series overall in which the author lets his mastery and experience in writing speak.
Larry McMurtry is an author every western fan should know the name of. Not only because of the success he has achieved in his career but also for the exceptional talent that he handles the American culture and history with. He was a man who dedicated his whole life to the rural way of living in the United States which he did so with nothing but love and whim.
Michael is a graduate of cultural studies and history. He enjoys a good bottle of wine and (surprise, surprise) reading. As a small-town librarian, he is currently relishing the silence and peaceful atmosphere that is prevailing.