This post contains affiliate links. Book Riot can earn a commission when you buy through these links.
Larry McMurtry, the writer who put the American West on the literary map through his works, best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove, has died at the age of 84. The death was of Amanda Lundberg, a family spokeswoman. No cause was given.
In a career spanning over five decades, McMurtry wrote more than 30 novels, including memoirs, short stories and essays. He was also a prolific screenwriter, including the acclaimed screenplay based on the Annie Proulx short story Brokeback Mountain. The film, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2006.
Larry McMurtry used his acceptance speech at the Academy Awards to thank booksellers everywhere. He is quoted as saying, “From the humble paperback exchanges to the masters of the world’s great bookstores, everyone contributes to the survival of the culture of the book, a wonderful culture we must not lose.” He owned or ran over 20 bookstores in his lifetime.
McMurtry’s affiliation to the West was a matter of course for him and is reflected in his works. He was born in Archer City, Texas into a rancher family. His grandfather broke horses and his father raised cattle. He knew from the start that ranching was not for him. In his memoir Books: A Memoir, he talks about his affinity for books and stories from an early age. He mentions that his grandfather’s house had no books for the first six years, but his family would sit on the porch every night and tell stories.
It was this practice that made McMurtry a beloved storyteller. During his works, which range from 300 to 900 pages, his characters are the main drivers of the plot. His Houston series, which consists of six books, was written back and forth over a period of 20 years, and each book focuses on the lives of a few characters on their way across the West. This series features the critically acclaimed Terms of Endearment, made famous by its film adaptation.
Today in Books Newsletter
Sign up to Today In Books for daily news and all about the world of books.
Thanks for signing up! Keep an eye on your inbox.
It’s no surprise that McMurtry wrote stories that drew the eyes of filmmakers in order to convey them to a wider audience. This is a trait McMurtry himself knew and worked on. In an interview with NPR, he said, “I can write characters who want to play the lead, and that’s how movies are made.”
His 1966 novel The Last Picture Show was made into a film in 1971 by writer and director Peter Bogdanovich with Jeff Bridges, which earned eight Academy Award nominations and two wins. His novel Terms of Endearment has also been turned into a film starring Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, and Jack Nicholson. The film received 11 Oscar nominations and five of them. His Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove was turned into a television miniseries starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall in 1989. The series received 18 Emmy nominations and seven Emmy wins.
McMurtry had other thoughts about his own work. In an interview, he stated that he had never seen the Lonesome Dove miniseries and thought the book was “a pretty good book; It’s not a huge masterpiece. ”
McMurtry couldn’t resist the pull of the west. About this he said: “These are all these beautiful rooms; They are all those running horses. It’s a poetic imagery and it’s been around for a long time. “But what he wanted to achieve with his work was also to expose the myth of the cowboy as a hero. In his book The Last Kind Words Saloon, McMurtry tried to do just that by creating an unfiltered portrait of his two main protagonists, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
Towards the end he turned to more nonfiction books, although he had never stopped writing. His 2008 published memoirs: A Memoir was followed shortly thereafter by a second memoir entitled Literary Life: A Second Memoir in 2009. His other non-fiction books include Walter Benjamin of the Dairy Queen: Reflections on Sixty and Beyond and Crazy Horse: Ein Leben .
If you ask me, McMurtry was able to achieve what he set out to do and also gave us characters we care about. My favorite is Patsy from Moving On, his first in the Houston series, who always lives on the verge of wanting more of her life.
I’ll go with a quote from Lonesome Dove, “If you want one thing too badly, it’s likely a disappointment.” The healthy way is to learn to like everyday things like soft beds and buttermilk… ”Too true, Mr. McMurtry. So true.