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A Seattle Times Best Book of 2014

The triumphant return of Larry McMurtry with this ballad in prose: his heartfelt tribute to a bygone era of the American West.

Larry McMurtry has done more than any other living writer to shape our literary imagination of the American West. With The Last Kind Words Saloon he returns again to the vivid and unsparing portrait of the nineteenth-century and cowboy lifestyle made so memorable in his classic Lonesome Dove. Evoking the greatest characters and legends of the Old Wild West, here McMurtry tells the story of the closing of the American frontier through the travails of two of its most immortal figures: Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

Opening in the settlement of Long Grass, Texas―not quite in Kansas, and nearly New Mexico―we encounter the taciturn Wyatt, whiling away his time in between bottles, and the dentist-turned-gunslinger Doc, more adept at poker than extracting teeth. Now hailed as heroes for their days of subduing drunks in Abilene and Dodge―more often with a mean look than a pistol―Wyatt and Doc are living out the last days of a way of life that is passing into history, two men never more aware of the growing distance between their lives and their legends.

Along with Wyatt''s wife, Jessie, who runs the titular saloon, we meet Lord Ernle, an English baron; the exotic courtesan San Saba, "the most beautiful whore on the plains"; Charlie Goodnight, the Texas Ranger turned cattle driver last seen in McMurtry''s Comanche Moon, and Nellie Courtright, the witty and irrepressible heroine of Telegraph Days.

McMurtry traces the rich and varied friendship of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday from the town of Long Grass to Buffalo Bill''s Wild West Show in Denver, then to Mobetie, Texas, and finally to Tombstone, Arizona, culminating with the famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral, rendered here in McMurtry''s stark and peerless prose.

With the buffalo herds gone, the Comanche defeated, and vast swaths of the Great Plains being enclosed by cattle ranches, Wyatt and Doc live on, even as the storied West that forged their myths disappears. As harsh and beautiful, and as brutal and captivating as the open range it depicts, The Last Kind Words Saloon celebrates the genius of one of our most original American writers.

From Booklist

Many famous western characters make cameos in McMurtry’s first novel in five years, which continues in the farcical vein of the Berrybender series. An English lord, accompanied by his beautiful mistress, teams up with Charles Goodnight to found a vast cattle ranch near Palo Duro Canyon, Texas—and fails. Observing Goodnight from the sidelines are two wisecracking ne’er-do-wells, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, who, after a brief stint with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, drift down to Tombstone, where Wyatt’s brothers, Virgil and Warren, have taken up the law and saloon-keeping, respectively. Other than Goodnight, Wyatt is the only developed character: he’s a wife beater and alcoholic with a quick temper. He picks a fight with the Clantons, an ignorant but mostly harmless bunch, and kills them in a paragraph. The famous O.K. Corral fight is rendered as a heartless parody. Maybe McMurtry’s version is truer than all the romanticized ones, but Gus McCrae from Lonesome Dove will roll in his grave. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This might not be exactly what Lonesome Dove fans would like, but the first novel from McMurtry in five years will have his audience eager for anything. --John Mort

Review

"By turns droll, stark, wry, or raunchy, this peripatetic novel…will satisfy many readers who long for more from literary icon McMurtry."
Keddy Ann Outlaw, Library Journal

"Larry McMurtry possesses one of the most engaging, tempting-to-imitate voices in contemporary American fiction, a voice so smooth and mellow you can almost hear the ice clink against the glass as he talks."
Max Byrd, New York Times Book Review

"[ The Last Kind Words Saloon] is never dull, and it’s also very funny. As always, McMurtry’s characters are plain-spoken but subtle and full of dry humor… Moseying along with McMurtry is always worthwhile."
Adam Wong, Seattle Times

" The Last Kind Words Saloon is a beautiful, dreamy, deeply melancholy book, connecting legend and disparate threads of history in a seamless pastiche of tall tales drawn against the context of their real circumstances."
Nathan Pensky, The Onion

"In this ‘ballad in prose,’ as McMurtry describes his latest book, he paints the familiar historical characters in unfamiliar ways… lovely."
Richard Eisenberg, People

"A deftly narrated, often comically subversive work of fiction… If Lonesome Dove is a chronicle of the cattle-driving West that contains within its vast, broad ranges a small but heartrending intimate tragedy of paternal neglect, The Last Kind Words Saloon is a dark postmodernist modernist comedy."
Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books

"Those who enjoy McMurtry’s rueful humor and understated tone of elegiac melancholy will devour the book in one setting."
Michael Lindgren, Washington Post

"[A] wildly worthy addition to the best art books of 2014… 33 Artists in 3 Acts is a superb read…"
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

About the Author

Larry McMurtry is an award-winning novelist, essayist, and avid bookseller and collector, who won an Academy Award for the screenplay of Brokeback Mountain with cowriter Diana Ossana. Awarded in 2014 the National Humanities Medal for his body of work, his novels include Lonesome Dove and, most recently, The Last Kind Words Saloon. He lives in Archer City, Texas.

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3.4 out of 53.4 out of 5
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Top reviews from the United States

sdr
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Beautifully written sometimes isn''t enough
Reviewed in the United States on June 24, 2018
McMurtry writes so well his work cannot be dismissed. But he has a habit of discarding characters like so much excess baggage when he tires of them. So Newt disappeared as an afterthought in Lonesome Dove. Other characters take our time and win our interest then, like... See more
McMurtry writes so well his work cannot be dismissed. But he has a habit of discarding characters like so much excess baggage when he tires of them. So Newt disappeared as an afterthought in Lonesome Dove. Other characters take our time and win our interest then, like Lord Ernley, ride over a cliff or, like Mary Goodnight, die in a sentence without warning or explanation. Over the years,I''ve found this habit off-putting and manipulative

So, I h a d a hard time with the story of Wyatt, Doc,Charlie Goodnight, Mary,and the rest. I get it that life comes at us sideways. And the matter of fact way of writing powerful events underscores the random nature of life and death in the West McMurtry knows so well. But this book lacked enough real storytelling to weave the threads into something truly enjoyable and compelling. Too bad because he had a big canvass and interesting characters. Seemed to me he got tired of writing and left the gaps in the story he would have filled in other, better days.
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Mr. Joe
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A leisurely doodle in character casting as a novella
Reviewed in the United States on May 16, 2017
“Driving a buggy with three women in it was no light task …” ‒ from THE LAST KIND WORDS SALOON At less than 200 paperback pages, don’t expect Larry McMurtry’s THE LAST KIND WORDS SALOON to be a full-fledged novel. It seemed to me that the author took several... See more
“Driving a buggy with three women in it was no light task …” ‒ from THE LAST KIND WORDS SALOON

At less than 200 paperback pages, don’t expect Larry McMurtry’s THE LAST KIND WORDS SALOON to be a full-fledged novel. It seemed to me that the author took several historical figures of the Old West with whom he had been long fascinated and constructed a story around them more as a writing exercise to keep himself amused. Sort of like doodling on a pad while talking on the phone.

Here, it’s an indefinite time before October 1881. It picks up in the small Western town of Long Grass, which is “nearly in Kansas, but not quite” and “nearly in New Mexico, too, but not quite.” It might even be in Texas. Wyatt Earp is in town along with his common-law wife, Jesse, and his friend Doc Holliday. Wyatt’s brother Warren is there also; he owns the Last Kind Word’s Saloon. Soon, Charlie Goodnight, an historically famous cattle rancher sometimes known as the “Father of the Texas Panhandle”, rides in preparatory to beginning a cattle drive. (Note: McMurtry’s novel Lonesome Dove is based on events of Goodnight’s third cattle drive with his partner Oliver Loving, Woodrow Call standing in for the former and Augustus McCrae for the latter.)

THE LAST KIND WORDS SALOON doesn’t have much of a plot. It develops much as tumbleweeds are indolently blown along by the wind. But, it should be sufficiently entertaining for fans of the author’s style. The relationships of the principle male characters with women are amusingly portrayed; the men seem constantly puzzled and mentally and emotionally inept when dealing with the ladies.

The plot drifts slowly towards October 1881 when Wyatt and his brothers and Doc enter Western legend. Although McMurtry didn’t perhaps intend such, his book’s portrayal of Wyatt Earp was pretty much consistent with my understanding of Jeff Guinn’s historical but iconoclastic narrative The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral-And How It Changed the American West , about which I wrote in a 2011 review that its author effectively reduced what is perhaps the American West''s most famous shootout to a brief eruption of grubby gunplay, and reveals one of America''s most name-recognizable frontier heroes as pathetically and disappointingly ordinary and, when considering the lifelong achievements of Wyatt Earp, the man was neither heroic nor particularly admirable.

I was tempted to give THE LAST KIND WORDS SALOON a ho-hum three stars, but then decided it had given me enough added value to rate four.
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Immer
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Saloon Serves 3.2 and Vanilla
Reviewed in the United States on July 5, 2014
Larry McMurtry’s “The Last Kind Words Saloon” was my first venture into the literature of this lettered author. Though the book is very readable, I was very disappointed. From the book jacket: “The Last Kind Words Saloon” is a ballad in prose whose characters are afloat... See more
Larry McMurtry’s “The Last Kind Words Saloon” was my first venture into the literature of this lettered author. Though the book is very readable, I was very disappointed. From the book jacket: “The Last Kind Words Saloon” is a ballad in prose whose characters are afloat in time; their legends and their lives in history rarely match. I had the great film director John Ford in mind when I wrote this book; he famously said that when you had to choose between history and legend, print the legend. And I’ve done so.”

Other than the book being an easy read, there is nothing very legendary about it. An individual with more than a casual background into the history of Wyatt Earp may even question was there a creation of history that did not match either the historical or legendary character. The dialogue between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday is fine, but other than that, not much goes on. A small Indian uprising occurs that contributes some grittiness to the book, but is not developed. The book has all the clichés of a typical Western, and reads as an old “Cliff Notes” on the West.

If allowed an analogy in my critique, I recall during a college drawing class, our instructor emphasizing the shape of empty space in our drawings. The shape and volume of that empty space was just as important as the subject that we were drawing. If McMurtry was emphasizing, in a metaphorical sense, the empty vastness of the West, and the sparseness of conversation, then he succeeded with The Last Kind Words Saloon. This was a book I wanted to like. It did not leave me wanting more, but left me with a sense that I was hoping it was more.
6 people found this helpful
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John R. Schwartz
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A different kind of western novel
Reviewed in the United States on November 8, 2020
Rather than being called a novel, maybe this great little book should be called a novelette. McMurtry has always been one of my favorite western authors. He always deals with historical incidents in an unusual way. This book is no different. The chapters are short and... See more
Rather than being called a novel, maybe this great little book should be called a novelette. McMurtry has always been one of my favorite western authors. He always deals with historical incidents in an unusual way. This book is no different. The chapters are short and the dialogue brief, but in so being, McMurtry gets his message across. It is light hearted, entertaining, and unlike any other western book you will ever read. I thoroughly recommend it!
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Us and Them
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Wanted To Like It......
Reviewed in the United States on May 15, 2014
First off, I am, like many reviewers here, a fan of Larry McMurtry. Unfortunately, I found this short story/novella, while readable, a pretty big disappointment. A less than 200 page book simply can''t do justice to the lives - even snippets - of some of the most legendary... See more
First off, I am, like many reviewers here, a fan of Larry McMurtry. Unfortunately, I found this short story/novella, while readable, a pretty big disappointment. A less than 200 page book simply can''t do justice to the lives - even snippets - of some of the most legendary & iconic characters of the old west. Maybe that was the goal - to portray them as "regular Joes" and unworthy of the fame they''ve garnered.

One of the things I enjoy doing, where no specific dates are provided, is trying to narrow down the time frame in question via the characters, their descriptions & conversations/thoughts as well as locale etc. Knowing the Tombstone gunfight took place in Oct. 1881 and not much time seems to elapse from the opening chapter to that event, the bulk of the story must take place in that same year.

Now, as a work of fiction, a certain amount of artistic license must be given the author. However, when dealing with historical figures and/or events, there is no excuse for getting the facts wrong - a major irritant for me. For example: The town of Douglas, AZ didn''t exist back then, nor for the most part did Bisbee - which was pretty much the only reason for its eventual founding. Thus there was also surely no Southern Pacific spur to that area of the border at that time. But, my biggest beef is with the description of Buffalo Bill Cody. He''s portrayed as more or less washed up and at the end of his career, having treated royal audiences in Europe, including Queen Victoria, to his Wild West Show. The topper, though is his death sometime in 1881. In reality, he would have been no more than 34-35 years of age - two years older than Wyatt - didn''t play Europe until the late 1880''s to early 1890''s, hadn''t even reached the height of this show biz fame and didn''t die until 1917!. I further seriously doubt Wyatt and Doc participated in any of the productions. Finally, the climactic gunfight is treated as anything but - which is perhaps the way McMurtry wanted it.

For an author of his stature, I can''t understand the lack of attention to detail (among other things), especially when all the info is readily available anywhere on the net. Maybe it was intentional for some reason I can''t fathom.
6 people found this helpful
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mjb
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
McMurtry''s REvisionist Western Mostly a Hoot
Reviewed in the United States on May 25, 2014
A trifle, which is not meant as a criticism, I quite enjoyed the book which is mostly an excuse to hang a lot of witty dialogue and observations about the world on a handful of characters. Mostly it''s an enjoyable place to spend a few hours (and the whole book can be read... See more
A trifle, which is not meant as a criticism, I quite enjoyed the book which is mostly an excuse to hang a lot of witty dialogue and observations about the world on a handful of characters. Mostly it''s an enjoyable place to spend a few hours (and the whole book can be read in a couple of hours) and that congenial tone (in some ways, the ease with which McMurtry lays out his world reminds me of late Jim Harrison, though Harrison''s world is more internal and personal) masks the reality that this book is revisionist down to its core. Wyatt Earp is ill-tempered, mostly quiet, probably murderous, definitely lazy and just as definitely a wife beater (though his wife Jessie, one of several vivid female characters, seems to sometimes find a smack to the face preferable to the endless tedium of living on the plains), Doc Holliday is friendly, talkative, easy to get along with and though he''s always threatening to shoot someone, is not murderous by nature.

Neither man can shoot a lick it seems, despite their reputations, and when they manage to hit something, it''s always seen as a happy accident. The shootout at the OK Corral is reduced to half a page and seems driven mostly by Wyatt''s basic assholiness. In many ways, women rule McMurtry''s west and indeed the men here are almost all bedeviled by feminine thinking, which confuses them and forces them to ponder their own existence, which is never a welcome thing. McMurty''s world is a defiantly anti-heroic one, not just the Earps and Holliday, but how all these historical figures fit together. How things actually happened seems to hold little interest for McMurtry and the book is better for it. I guess it comes down to whether you find the book funny or not. I did; when the most shocking death in the entire book is that of a good-natured ox (later mourned by both Wyatt and Doc), you know you''re in a world that isn''t overly ruled by what actually happened.
2 people found this helpful
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M. Dessner
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Sadly, this book should not have been published..
Reviewed in the United States on May 20, 2014
and if anyone else had written it this ugly review would be unnecessary. In actuality it doesn''t deserve two star but this is McMurtry after all. Thinly plotted, zero character development, or arc of any kind for that matter. My two take aways were to wonder what Mr.... See more
and if anyone else had written it this ugly review would be unnecessary. In actuality it doesn''t deserve two star but this is McMurtry after all. Thinly plotted, zero character development, or arc of any kind for that matter. My two take aways were to wonder what Mr. McMurtry has against the Wyatt Earp legend to so thoroughly deflate and kick dust over it, if not outright mislead, and I''m afraid the man''s mind might be slipping a bit. I mean no disrespect, Lonesome Dove is the greatest ''western'' novel ever written, a masterpiece; but this reads like the wanderings of someone who might be just a bit senile or somewise else mentally impaired.

To the first point, McMurtry transforms his Wyatt Earp into a wife beating back shooter who neither carries a pistol nor has any involvement in formal law enforcement. The implication is clearly made that Earp murdered Clanton patriarch, Newman "Old Man" Clanton, and he erases 2 months time between that bushwhacking and the gunfight at the OK Corral. Odd, in that this shortening of interval actually makes it pretty unlikely that Earp could have traveled the 60 miles to the Guadalupe Canyon Massacre and back to Tombstone without some notice.
But this gets directly to the problem with the story, the liberties taken with history seem to make no sense. McMurtry''s disclaimer that his characters are afloat in time portrayed in a ballad of prose favoring legend over history notwithstanding, this simply does not follow. Its NOT more interesting than the true story. Its a dulling down. An unburnishing. In fact it seems purposefully directed at deflating and lessening the impact of the Earp story by turning him into a craven cur. Perhaps if the players in Tombstone had been Texans...
Even more sadly are the simple mistakes.
on pp 14 Jessie, Earp''s wife, complains that he had hit her with a closed fist on two previous occasions. Then, pp 162, in Tombstone (one presumes it''s later in time) Earp hits her and she reflects "Wyatt had never hit her with a closed fist before."
The magically appearing red ox is just one example of characters who appear and disappear with no exposition. Tiresome indeed.

All in all it''s a sad book to read, and not because, like Lonesome Dove, the subject matter is maudlin. Its sad because McMurtry appears to be doing to himself what he has planned for Earp.

Uninteresting, poorly written from a continuity standpoint and scattered. Read Doc by Mary Doria Russell for a truly terrific new look at the Earp story.

And let''s hope that the editors and publishers at Liveright will have a bit more respect for their Pulitzer prize winning author in the future and not expose his reputation to such a debilitating blow. Greed kills and it has certainly extinguished my desire to buy another book from the once great McMurtry.
8 people found this helpful
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HT
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
New to Larry McMurtry? Skip this and read Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment, and The Last Picture Show.
Reviewed in the United States on May 13, 2014
A pleasant enough story but with very little plot. A short period in the lives of Wyatt Earp, his brothers, Doc Holliday, and Charles Goodnight is covered. They meander through the west. It culminates with the battle at the OK Corral but it''s not like the rest of the book... See more
A pleasant enough story but with very little plot. A short period in the lives of Wyatt Earp, his brothers, Doc Holliday, and Charles Goodnight is covered. They meander through the west. It culminates with the battle at the OK Corral but it''s not like the rest of the book builds to it.

The book is replete with McMurtry''s archetype strong women who can''t quite communicate with men, and vice versa. There is some clever dialog; McMurtry''s dialog is what brings be back again and again to his stories though I''ve grown ever more disappointed in his novels after Lonesome Dove.

It''s obvious that McMurtry knows the west and he can make it come alive but in the end it doesn''t seem to be for any purpose. Maybe there is something I''m not seeing in it.

I fell in love with the early McMurtry novels; if you are looking for something to read by him, skip this and go for Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment, or The Last Picture Show
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Top reviews from other countries

Bing
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Heroes live on
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 15, 2021
Larry McMurty is long been a master of western tales, and with "The Last Kind Words Saloon" he has come up with a neat idea of the later days of two heroes: Wyatt Earp, now whiling his days away between bottles, and Doc Holliday, the dentist-cum-gunslinger, is now more...See more
Larry McMurty is long been a master of western tales, and with "The Last Kind Words Saloon" he has come up with a neat idea of the later days of two heroes: Wyatt Earp, now whiling his days away between bottles, and Doc Holliday, the dentist-cum-gunslinger, is now more adept at poker. The pair live on as the West that forged their myths is disappearing. It is a shrewd and thoughtful book in many ways, leavened by McMurty''s rueful humour.
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Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
More wonderful, hilarious story telling would be hard to find.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 30, 2021
This tale gives a new way of looking at the famous exploits of the Earps and Doc Holiday, including the OK Corral incident, and is afar more refreshing change than the actual, historical happening. Larry McMurty keeps to enthralled with his wonderfully, hilarious, diverting...See more
This tale gives a new way of looking at the famous exploits of the Earps and Doc Holiday, including the OK Corral incident, and is afar more refreshing change than the actual, historical happening. Larry McMurty keeps to enthralled with his wonderfully, hilarious, diverting take on history, and even makes you uncertain of what is true. Great! Don''t miss the chance to read this!
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aredbeardeddwarf
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
So this is the synopsis; when is the novel due?
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 25, 2019
I should say I rate Lonesome Dove extremely highly, and I even liked the sequels. That said, somebody needs to explain how this happened. Clearly, McMurtry sent a rough synopsis of his next novel to his publisher and, by some mischance, it managed to get published as is....See more
I should say I rate Lonesome Dove extremely highly, and I even liked the sequels. That said, somebody needs to explain how this happened. Clearly, McMurtry sent a rough synopsis of his next novel to his publisher and, by some mischance, it managed to get published as is. While mistakes can happen, it doesn''t seem reasonable to continue selling this for £4.99 once the problem is evident to anyone.
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Kindle Customer
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Western
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 19, 2020
Interesting book but not as good as I thought it would be. Elements seem to be rushed. I brought the Kindle version which was complete with pictures at the start of the different sections.
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Pablo
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A steep descent from ''Lonesome Dove''
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 30, 2017
Trite, superficial and essentially hollow. Possible one of those books that was fun to write - but only the title is memorable or resonant. The characters are not even two dimensional and the dialogue is sloppy.
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