July 08, 1985 12:00 PM

by Larry McMurtry

The title of this giant, 19th-century Western saga is taken from the name of a fictional Texas town just across the border from Mexico. The Civil War is over and many displaced folks have moved west to try and make new lives. Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call are former Texas Rangers who have declared themselves in the cattle business (when they have a customer they go over the border and steal some cows). Their hands have names like Pea Eye, Newt, Dish, Needle and Deets. Men insult each other just to pass the time. When Call accuses Gus of reading the Bible all night, Gus claims that it’s only in the morning. “The rest of the day,” he says, “I’m just reminded of what a miserable stink hole we stuck ourselves in.” That’s the key to these men’s characters: Their lives are wretched, but they take full responsibility for everything that happens to them—even death when it comes. When an old friend shows up and suggests they take a bunch of cattle up to the grasslands of Montana, they go on a drive that gives the author a chance to do what he does best: portray men in action. (The few women in this story prove to be a lot more trouble than they are comfort.) The mean guys are shifty, violent, dirty and dangerous. The horse thieves among them get properly—and not so properly—strung up. The heroes are interesting, prickly, independent cusses. In one of McMurtry’s earlier novels, Leaving Cheyenne, there is an unforgettable scene of two old men having a set-to over an accident involving goats in the road. It is rich in humor, but it is also splintered with truths about men and their relationships. Many of the scenes in Lonesome Dove have that same quality, and it makes this novel the best that McMurtry has produced in a long time. With hit films such as Hud, The Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment made from his novels, it’s only natural that everyone will want to cast this new book. The two main roles are perfect for Newman and Redford. They happen to be the right age at the right time. (Simon and Schuster, $18.95)

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