The Last Kind Words Saloon
Author: Larry McMurtry
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation (2014)
Hardcover Edition:196 pages
Source: Personal Copy
Larry McMurtry’s stories of the American West have been entertaining many of us for a number of years. From Leaving Cheyenne through the thick volumes of the Pulitzer Prize Winning Lonesome Dove and Comanche Moon and a stack of lighter weights like Buffalo Girls and By Sorrow’s River––to name some favorites––nothing quite lights the fire of a western reader like another McMurtry tale.
The reader floats through the first part of The Last Kind Words Saloon, enjoying the short pithy chapters and the constant crackling of the dialogue, waiting for something to happen. And suddenly with a crazy crash bang, it does. The arid plains, nearly empty of anything but grass and cracked soil, thought to be unchangeable, deliver changes, both expected and surprising. Every hallmark of the West finds a spot in this story, or so it seems. A huge stampede, storms of hail and sand, vicious wind, the sudden cliffs of Palo Duro Canyon, miles of slow travel in a carriage, wagon or on the back of a mule; it’s all here. Indians, cowboys, and rich Englishmen trying to make a fortune in beef cattle; oh, and exotic women are also to be found in the wide-open treeless spaces of Kansas, Texas, and points west. The pieces of the story fit together like a jigsaw puzzle where the background is filled with cowboys in chaps and huge tumbleweeds.
The story follows some characters western aficionados are likely to know something about: Wyatt Earp and his brothers, Doc Holliday and a cattle driver Charlie Goodnight. But it is the female characters McMurtry creates who spice up the tale like a sauce of hot peppers. This time favorites are Jessie Earp, Wyatt’s wife, Mary, the wife of Goodnight and San Saba, a woman who has traveled the world and for a time finds a place on the plains. These women spit and sizzle. They join hands making the best of less-than-perfect situations, and somehow make those situations better. The reader may well wonder what the colorless arid plains or this story would be like without them.
This book took me back to my days long gone when Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage carried me through a rainy afternoon like the pulsing melodies from a favorite long-playing album. The mix of legend, history and imagination is powerful and soothing in its own way, the best kind of escape. There’s no one better to travel the Old West with than McMurtry. In this book he takes the reader from the small settlement of Long Grass to Denver and Tombstone and finally California. Traveling with him is mostly fun, and yes, he shows compassion and acceptance for his characters, a trait I treasure in a writer.