A hat came skipping down the main street of Long Grass,
propelled only by the wind, which was sharp for March.
~Opening Line, page 3.
When looking for a western to ease my way into summer, it's not surprising that I found a friend in The Last Kind Words Saloon by Larry McMurtry. While clearly echoing his great Lonesome Dove novels, this novella honors my increasingly shortened attention span. Comprised of 58 breezy snapshots of the Old West in the span of less than 200 pages, McMurtry's novella is further divided in five sections that, for the most part, suggest the settings: Long Grass, Denver, Mobetie, Tombstone and Nellie's Visits.
The Last Kind Words Saloon follows a loosely defined singular narrative whcih moves from section, as McMurtry introduces multiple fictional and non-fictional supporting characters, developing each to varying degrees. While the primary protagonists, the not-so-legendary, at least as depicted here, Wyatt Earp and his sidekick Doc Holiday, are clearly echoes of Dove's leads, the fact that we are back in McMurtry's easygoing western voice ameliorates any possible disappointment due to repetition. Additionally, the inclusion of several strong female characters for which there seem to be no easy Lonesome Dove doppelgangers, brings enough colorful newness to the proceedings.
It is also refreshing to note that McMurtry continues to avoid the pitfalls of romanticizing his Western tropes: the males, even those who are the de facto "heroes," are inclined to be a**holes and behave in a way that in a modern context would be reprehensible. Here they are presented as painfully common place, and simply part of the male code of the late 1800s, like it or not. Likewise, the women, while most definitely put-upon within the proper historical context, evoke a strength and resolve which any who have struggled will recognize as necessary ingredients in surviving and, in rare case, overcoming.
The Last Kind Words Saloon is a quick and engaging summer read, and one that lasts only as long as you wish it to: to be either savored in small pieces along with other books being simultaneously read or devour in one sitting.
For more literate review of McMurtry's The Last Kind Words Saloon, check out the following: