Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Horseman, Pass By" ~ Larry McMurtry

This book is McMurtry's first novel and a memorable start to a career of putting the reader in the hip pocket of, on the saddle with, and in the life and times of the characters he portrays with aching accuracy.

I wasn't aware this was the book on which the screen-play for the Paul Newman movie "Hud" was based until I recently read McMurtry's "In A Narrow Grave", a collection of essays. The first essay in the Narrow Grave book is about his experience with the making of that movie. I saw the movie when it was a first run in 1963 and thought it a gritty, powerful movie. As is often the case with Hollywood, the screen-play changed the focus of the story as McMurtry had written it from the story of a 17 year old's coming of age in the book, to that of a hell-raising, surly man played by the guaranteed big box office draw Paul Newman in the movie. Doing so is understandable in light of the medium, but a huge loss for the viewer.

"Horseman, Pass By" is the story of three men. Lonnie, from whose point of view the book is written, is a 17 year old, unsettled and anxious to get to know more about the world than his growing up on his grandfather's west Texas ranch has shown him. He's torn between his "itch" and his devotion to his grandfather and his grandfather's way of life. The grandfather is nearing the end of his days and sees his life's work snuffed out when his cattle develope the dreaded hoof and mouth disease and must be destroyed. Caught between is Hud, the old man's step-son who has an itch of his own. He wants the old man's land and he doesn't want to wait.

Larry McMurtry is a master at telling the real story of the cowboy, past and present. This is a very readable example.

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