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
. 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.
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
"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
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.