First, the bad news. The Last Kind Words Saloon is Larry McMurtry’s first novel in five years, and, at that pace, it could well prove to be his last. But the good news is that it marks a return to the kind of fiction for which McMurtry is best known – and most revered – his comic debunking of the mythical history of the American West.
The Last Kind Words Saloon is filled with real life heroes and villains from America’s past: Wyatt Earp and his brothers, Doc Holliday, Charles Goodnight, Buffalo Bill Cody, the Clanton brothers, Teddy Blue, Johnny Ringo, plus Indian chiefs Quanah Parker and Santana, among them. Readers familiar with the historical versions of these men, however, might see them a little differently after reading this one because McMurtry, as usual, is more interested in their personal insecurities, drinking problems, general laziness, and womanizing than in the legends they ultimately became.
Although this is a novel not long on actual plot, McMurtry packs a lot into a relatively short book (its fifty-eight chapters total only 196 pages), catching most of his characters toward the tail ends of the lives that would turn them into “cowboy legends.” This ramble through the history of the Old West has a feeling of inevitability about it as the Earp family, always in search of a way to make the most money via the least effort required, decides to move to Tombstone, Arizona, just in time to clash with the Clanton clan at the O.K. Corral. Fittingly, this thirty-second gunfight, one for which both the Earps and the Clantons will be forever remembered, takes up only the last half-page of The Last Kind Words Saloon – a half-page that can be read in approximately thirty seconds.
|Author Larry McMurtry|
But the best part of the novel is the dialogue between Wyatt and Doc that sometimes rivals that of Woodrow Call and Gus McCrae in McMurtry’s masterpiece Lonesome Dove, with Wyatt often reminding the reader of Call, and Doc sometimes sounding a bit like Gus. McMurtry has a talent for revealing much about his characters through humorous conversation and he uses it to advantage here. So while The Last Kind Words Saloon may be no Lonesome Dove, it is Larry McMurtry and that’s a good thing. His fans will not want to miss this one.