Larry McMurtry Boone's Lick

ISBN 13: 9780671040581

Boone's Lick

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9780671040581: Boone's Lick
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Boone's Lick is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry's return to the kind of story that made him famous -- an enthralling tale of the nineteenth-century west. Like his bestsellers Lonesome Dove, Streets of Laredo, Comanche Moon, and Dead Man's Walk, Boone's Lick transports the reader to the era about which McMurtry writes better and more shrewdly than anyone else.
Told with McMurtry's unique blend of historical fact and sheer storytelling genius, the novel follows the Cecil family's arduous journey by riverboat and wagon from Boone's Lick, Missouri, to Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming. Fifteen-year-old Shay narrates, describing the journey that begins when his Ma, Mary Margaret, decides to hunt down her elusive husband, Dick, to tell him she's leaving him. Without knowing precisely where he is, they set out across the plains in search of him, encountering grizzly bears, stormy weather, and hostile Indians as they go. With them are Shay's siblings, G.T., Neva, and baby Marcy; Shay's uncle, Seth; his Granpa Crackenthorpe; and Mary Margaret's beautiful half-sister, Rose. During their journey they pick up a barefooted priest named Father Villy, and a Snake Indian named Charlie Seven Days, and persuade them to join in their travels.
At the heart of the novel, and the adventure, is Mary Margaret, whom we first meet shooting a sheriff's horse out from underneath him in order to feed her family. Forceful, interesting, and determined, she is written with McMurtry's trademark deftness and sympathy for women, and is in every way a match for the worst the west can muster.
Boone's Lick abounds with the incidents, the excitements, and the dangers of life on the plains. Its huge cast of characters includes such historical figures as Wild Bill Hickok and the unfortunate Colonel Fetterman (whose arrogance and ineptitude led to one of the U.S. Army's worst and bloodiest defeats at the hands of the Cheyenne and Sioux) as well as the Cecil family (itself based on a real family of nineteenth-century traders and haulers).
The story of their trek in pursuit of Dick, and the discovery of his second and third families, is told with brilliance, humor, and overwhelming joie de vivre in a novel that is at once high adventure, a perfect western tale, and a moving love story -- it is, in short, vintage McMurtry, combining his brilliant character portraits, his unerring sense of the west, and his unrivaled eye for the telling detail.
Boone's Lick is one of McMurtry's richest works of fiction to date.

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Review:

Master storyteller Larry McMurtry unfurls a short, bright banner of a book following the fortunes of the Cecil family as they travel from Boone's Lick, Missouri, to the Western frontier. Though the story is narrated by her oldest son, 15-year-old Shay, the real hero of the book is Mary Margaret, the mother. Her husband, Dick, has left her and their four children in Boone's Lick while he seeks his fortunes in the West. Mary Margaret lives contentedly with the children and Dick's brother, Seth, until one day she decides she's had enough of playing the estranged wife and packs up the entire household. And so the Cecil family leaves their little town (where Wild Bill Hickok makes a cameo appearance) and travels by wagon to Wyoming, accompanied along the way by a fat Québecois priest and a Shoshone. They do find Dick, and they also arrive in Wyoming just in time for the 1866 Fetterman Massacre.

McMurtry writes with an ease that younger writers would do well to emulate. Here Seth fights off an ambush of white trash dastards:

Uncle Seth fired again and a third horse went down--though just saying it went down would be to put it too mildly. The third horse turned a complete somersault. Its rider flew off about thirty feet, after which he didn't move.
"'It's rare to see a horse turn a flip like that,' Uncle Seth observed." That cool "observed" gives an idea of the book's wry, pervasive humor. But there's more here than shooting and quipping: McMurtry's wagon full of frustrated Missourians makes a fine narrative vehicle: we get a first-hand account of the Native American wars; we get the perspective of the women left behind in the opening of the West; we get a wagon's-eye view of the hard journey of the settlers; and, ultimately, we get an insightful family romance. All that, and scalpings too. --Claire Dederer

About the Author:

Larry McMurtry is the author of twenty-nine novels, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Lonesome Dove, three memoirs, two collections of essays, and more than thirty screenplays. He lives in Archer City, Texas.

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