An American novelist, screenwriter and essayist, Larry McMurtry has penned about 50 books that will forever remain favourites. A contemporary writer who won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for his exceptional novel Lonesome Dove, Larry has also won hearts as a screenwriter and won the Oscars for Brokeback Mountain. This exceptional author has penned some of the most successful plots that later found their way into the screens, such as “The Last Picture Show” and “Terms of Endearment”, and both of them were a success. Well, this is not it; many of his other novels have also been adapted into successful films, including the Horseman, Pass By, and Leaving Cheyenne.
Larry has set most of his novels on the frontier, in contemporary small towns, and increasingly urbanized and industrial areas of Texas, and his plots are not unique but also extremely impressive. Apart from writing novels, Larry has also presented the readers with some interesting essay collections, including In a Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas (1968), Sacagawea’s Nickname: Essays on the American West (2001) and others, that are surely worth a read. Larry McMurtry’s works became so popular that he was later awarded the National Humanities Medal by U.S. Pres. Barack Obama in 2015. If you have never read Larry’s books before and want to begin right away, but are pretty confused about where to begin, then here are the list of 10 best books that you just cannot miss.
1. Horseman, Pass By
A short novel narrated by the seventeen-year-old Lonnie Bannon, Horseman, Pass By the title derived from W.B. Yeats’ poem, is set in Texas, during 1954, when America was trying to cope up with the aftermath of World War II. Lonnie lives on a cattle ranch that is owned by his grandfather Homer Bannon, who has an evil stepson Hud, always committing crimes and keeping the family’s happiness and peace at stake.
It is through the eyes of Lonnie that the readers get to witness the lifestyle in Bannon ranch and the other characters of the plot, including his grandfather, Homer, grandmother, Jewel, uncle, Hud, assistant cowboy, Jesse, and an African-American cook, Halmea. Everything seems to go normal until one day, Hud rapes Halmea and shoots Homer. There are many themes in the novel that clearly portray the post-war era, where love, kindness, empathy and happiness had no value because people were so used to betrayal, violence and grief.
2. The Last Picture Show
The Last Picture Show is an award-winning novel by Larry McMurtry that was later adapted into a successful film in the year 1963. This coming-of-age novel follows the story of Sonny Crawford and his journey from an adolescent to manhood. Sonny is friends with Duane Moore and goes to high school, but the problem lies in the fact that both are obsessed with hanging out in pools and sex. Duane has a girlfriend named Jacy and wants to marry her soon, whereas Sonny wants to have everything that Duane has, and Jacy wants to escape Thalia.
Set in the mid-1950s in Thalia, Texas, through the eyes of two young boys, Larry portrays the picture of post-war Americaclearly, through some depressing events such as the sudden shutting down of the only movie theatre in the town. Thoroughly engaging, The Last Picture Show is a tale of maturation, depression, loneliness, the obsession with sex, and so much more.
3. Leaving Cheyenne
Larry’s Leaving Cheyenne is a heart-touching novel that revolves around the friendship and love of three main characters Gid Fry, Johnny McCloud and Molly Taylor. Gid is a young cowboy wannabe who works for his father Adam on the ranch. Gid admires his friend, Johnny McCloud, who lives nearby on a nearby ranch, and both of them have been inseparable since childhood even though their personalities are totally different. Gid is disciplined and responsible, whereas Johnny is carefree and irresponsible but, the main problem lies in the fact that both of them have feelings for Molly Taylor, and this sometimes gives rise to rivalries.
Molly is the beauty of the North Texas community, every boy in the town wants to be with her, but she shows her affection mostly to these two friends and does not reveal whom she loves the most. While Gid is serious about marrying Molly, Johnny just wants to make fun, but when Molly continues to shower her affection to both the friends, the plot begins to take a different turn. Will Molly ever choose between the two friends? Or will she give birth to their child? There are many shocking events to discover.
4. The Berrybender Narratives
Set during the 1830s, when Lord and Lady Berrybender embark on a journey up the Missouri River towards the American West to explore the frontier, The Berrybender Narratives records their journey throughout and the events that take place in between. From the beauties and temptations of the untamed West to the dark sides of it, the journey of Berrybenders is thrilling, exciting and undoubtedly engaging.
5. Lonesome Dove
The novel that brought Larry the prestigious Pulitzer Prize, Lonesome Dove, is a captivating tale of relationships between several retired Texas Rangers and their adventures driving a cattle herd from Texas to Montana. There are many notable characters who play major roles in the plot, including Captain Augustus “Gus” McCrae, Lorena, the popular whore in the town, Captain Woodrow F. Call, and many others. Much of the plot revolves around the Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium, where nothing extraordinary ever happens, but it is the magic of Larry McMurtry that even in this dull setting, he gives birth to an interesting plot.
Gus loves Lorena; however, she doesn’t. There’s another man in the town who has fallen for the pretty whore, a man named Boggett Dish. The novel goes on to unfold many interesting events focusing on these characters, such as Gus wanting to help Lorena to reach San Francisco, but she keeps on rejecting his help and love, and rather chooses the abusive man Jack every time even when she realizes he isn’t the one. The ending of the novel is truly shocking and will surely melt your heart.
6. Streets of Laredo
Streets of Laredo is the final novel in Larry McMurtry‘s Lonesome Dove quartet and revolves around the characters you have already come across in Lonesome Dove, including Captain Woodrow Call and August McCrae. In Streets of Laredo, Larry McMurtry gets to complete the story of Captain Woodrow Call, especially when he is at the brink of death, and recalls his youthful days at the same time.
Once a youthful Texas Ranger, Call is now old and is now a bounty hunter hired to track down a brutal young Mexican bandit. The whole novel revolves around this perilous chase that leads Call to unexpected places and comes across unexpected events. Streets of Laredo is an exhilarating and achingly poignant tale of heroism and friendship and is surely the one not to miss.
7. Terms of Endearment
A book that gave birth to the two most appealing women characters, who won millions of hearts, Terms of Endearment is the story of Aurora Greenway and her daughter Emma, who struggle through the hazards of life, and eventually learn to love and rely on each other.
Aurora is widowed and overprotective about her daughter; she is the kind of woman who makes the whole world orbit around her, including a string of devoted suitors. Emma, on the other hand, is not much like her mother, suffering from a chaotic marriage and battling her life with cancer. Together Aurora and Emma depict a heart-touching, Oscar-winning tale full of courage, humour, struggles and epiphanies.
8. Dead Man’s Walk
Dead Man’s Walk is another book in the quartet of Lonesome Dove and deals with the familiar characters Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call in their youth as Texas Rangers. From the perils of the land, including the scorching heat, tornadoes, roiling rivers, merciless Indians and the deadly whims of soldiers, to the problems of war (the WWII), this novel has so much to reveal.
Dead Man’s Walk is a prequel to Lonesome Dove and portrays the tale of Call and Gus as they begin their careers as Texas Rangers. From exploring the barren American frontier, the harsh west, to surviving the adversities, Dead Man’s Walk will leave you spellbound.
9. Comanche Moon
Book number 2 in the Lonesome Dove quartet, Comanche Moon, focuses on the American West and the Texas Rangers August McCrae and Woodrow Call, now in their middle years, who continue to struggle under the hardships of adult life. Gus loves Clara Forsythe, and Call loves the young whore Maggie Tilton; although totally different personalities with a different tastes, both Gus and Call are inseparable partners. When both the men find themselves enlisting with the Ranger troop in pursuit of Buffalo Hump, the great Comanche war chief; Kicking Wolf, the celebrated Comanche horse thief; and a deadly Mexican bandit king with a penchant for torture, the novel becomes more and more interesting.
The adventures of Gus and Call are truly mesmerizing.
10. In a Narrow Grave
The last one on this list is not a novel but a remarkable collection of essays dealing with Texas life and Larry’s views. In a Narrow Grave explores the themes of sex, literature, and cowboys to rodeos, small-town folk, and big-city slickers. Those of you who have loved Larry as a novelist should give this essay collection a read to find out a brilliant essayist and critique within this exceptional author.
These were the 10 best books by Larry McMurtry that are undoubted must-reads. Most of Larry’s book focuses on the ranch of Texas, and some of his characters are repetitive, mostly in the Lonesome Dove quartet. Pulitzer Prize and Oscar-winning Larry McMurtry have penned some of the most remarkable novels that are bound to leave an everlasting impression on readers.