I began 2015 hoping finally to read some of the books that have been sitting on my bookshelves, almost untouched, for the past decade or two...or three. So far, I have read six books from the past; 2004's Folly and Glory is the fifth of them to be reviewed.
Folly and Glory is the final book in Larry McMurtry’s four-book series known as “The Berrybender Narratives.” In this one, the surviving members of the Berrybender family and their hunting party, if they can finally make it to safety, are going to have to decide what to do with the rest of their lives. Will all of the remaining Berrybenders return to England, or will some of them decide to make permanent lives for themselves in the American West? And if any go back, are any of their American lovers/spouses likely to accompany them?
As Folly and Glory begins, Tasmin Berrybender and her family are under house arrest by the Mexican government in Santa Fe. But, because they are housed in the biggest and most comfortable house in the whole town, they fail to comprehend fully what danger they are still in. It is only when the Mexicans decide to move the whole Berrybender clan to Vera Cruz that the reality of their situation sinks in. Now the Berrybenders and their entourage (be they British, American, or Indian) are going to have to endure another trek across the desert that will come near to starving them to death – if they do not first die of dehydration.
Oh, and incidentally, the women in the group have caught the eye of a group of renegade slave traders determined to kidnap them for later sale at a nice profit. And the slavers are always out there somewhere just waiting for the opportunity to grab them.
Interestingly, McMurtry alludes to the title of this final volume in at least two different sections of Folly and Glory. Early on (page 28), he uses the words of the title to refer to the whole American experience when he says, “Had it been glory, or had it been folly, the unrelenting American push? Were town and farm better than red men and buffalo? Bill Clark didn’t know, but he could not but feel bittersweet about the changes he himself had helped to bring.”
And then, on the book’s final page, the author uses the same two words while discussing the personal experiences of Tasmin Berrybender, the main character and chief heroine of the series. As McMurtry puts it, “They had begun their lovemaking far out on the prairie, where the buffalo bulls in hundreds roared in their rut. Naked, those first few times, Tasmin had been convinced that she was now a child of nature – and there was the folly hidden under the glory; she was a daughter of privilege, English privilege, and Jim was a son of necessity – American necessity. Such a combination might thrill, but could it endure?”
I said in my review of the first Berrybender book that I suspected that the series had received neither the critical credit nor the general popularity it deserves. After reading all four of the books, and spending time with one of the more memorable fictional characters I’ve ever encountered (Tasmin Berrybender), I am now more certain of that than ever.