Thursday, February 25, 2021

Page 99: What It Says About Lonesome Dove

The Times
(London) includes a feature called "Page 99" in its book section every week that I've come to find works very effectively to give a real sense of what a particular book is all about, especially as to its style and overall readability. The editor in charge always introduces the  piece puts it this way:

    "Ford Madox Ford, friend of Joseph Conrad, novelist and literary critic, said: 'Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.' Arbitrary, perhaps, but surprisingly accurate."

In that spirit, I've shamelessly stolen the idea (whether from Ford Madox Ford or from The Times, I'm not sure) to see how it works on a couple of the books I'm reading at the moment. First up, a portion of the ninety-ninth page of Larry McMurtry's absolutely brilliant western novel, Lonesome Dove:

    "Wilbarger of course was a surprise. He trotted his big black horse right up to the porch, which surprised the blue pigs as much as it did Augustus. They woke up and grunted at the horse.

    Wilbarger looked enviously at Augustus's jug. 'By God, I bet that ain't persimmon juice you're drinking,' he said. 'I wish I could afford an easy life.'

    'If you was to dismount and stop scaring my pigs you'd be welcome to a drink,' Augustus said. 'We can introduce ourselves later.'

    The shoat got up and walked right under the black horse, which was well broke enough that it didn't move. Wilbarger was more shocked than the horse. In fact, Augustus was shocked himself. The shoat had never done such a thing before, though he had always been an unpredictable shoat.

    'I guess that's one of the pigs you don't rent,' Wilbarger said. 'If I'd been riding my mare she'd have kicked it so far you'd have had to hunt to find your bacon.'

    'Well, that pig had been asleep,' Augustus said. 'I guess it didn't expect a horse to be standing there when it woke up.'

    'Which are you, Call or McCrae?' Walberger asked, tired of discussing pigs.

    'I'm McCrae,' Augustus said. 'Call wouldn't put up with this much jabbering.'

    'Can't blame him,' Walberger said. 'I'm Walberger.'

That's a taste of my favorite novel of all-time. I'm reading Lonesome Dove for the third time right now - all 843 pages of it - and it still makes me laugh and seems as fresh as it did the first time I read it back in 1985. It's only one of half-a-dozen books I'm reading at the moment, so I'm limiting myself to one or two chapters a day, and I'm finding that may be the best way of all to experience the Augustus McCrae/Woodrow Call saga. After all, I really don't want it to end...and have just reached page 99. 

Larry McMurtry


  1. You know I'm going to have to go open all my books to Page 99 now just to see if this theory holds true. ;D

  2. What an interesting theory. I really will have to check that out. Possibly it stands to reason as 99 pages is often about a quarter or a third of the way through a book when things should be starting to jog along nicely. Although it wouldn't be a third of the way through Lonesome Dove! And I still haven't read that which is a sad thing as I know I would love it. I annoy myself at times.

    1. That probably does explain why this theory seems to work so often, Cath. I've tested it on about a dozen books so far, and I've only found one that I thought was misrepresented by its ninety-ninth page so badly that I would have tossed it aside if that was all I knew about it. would haver been a terrible mistake.

  3. It is a perfect taste, maybe not of all the adventure, but of the characters and humor, and I was grinning as I read it. Maybe is time to reread Lonesome Dove.

    1. I think it absolutely perfectly captures the overall tone of the book. Really, Lonesome Dove is all about the relationship between Gus and Call...everything else always comes back to that eventually.

      This will be my third read in 35 years...I don't think I want to wait so long between reads anymore. :-)