Are you looking to dive into some of the best works by acclaimed author Larry McMurtry? Look no further than this comprehensive guide to the top titles to read now. From sweeping epics to poignant character studies, McMurtry’s novels showcase his mastery of storytelling and character development.
The Life and Career of Larry McMurtry
Larry McMurtry was a celebrated American author, born on June 3, 1936, in Archer City, Texas, to a family of book lovers. Growing up, he was surrounded by literature and spent much of his childhood reading anything he could get his hands on. His parents owned a used bookstore in Archer City, which gave him access to a wide range of books and literary traditions.
After completing his education, McMurtry returned to Texas and began writing full time. He was heavily influenced by the works of William Faulkner and other Southern writers, as well as classic Western novels by authors such as Zane Grey and Max Brand.
Early Life and Influences
McMurtry’s upbringing in a literary household had a major influence on his development as a writer. His parents’ love for books and reading instilled in him a passion for literature, which he carried with him throughout his life.
As a young man, McMurtry earned a degree in English from North Texas State College and completed a stint in the US Army. After his military service, he returned to Texas and began writing full time.
McMurtry’s early works were heavily influenced by his upbringing and his love for Southern and Western literature. His first novel, Horseman, Pass By, was published in 1961 and was later adapted into the film Hud, starring Paul Newman.
Writing Style and Themes
McMurtry’s writing style is characterized by a keen sense of observation and a wry, often sardonic wit. He is known for his richly drawn characters and his ability to capture the unique rhythms of everyday life in both small-town and big-city settings.
His novels often explore themes of love, longing, regret, and the passage of time, as well as the changing landscape of the American West. His most famous work, Lonesome Dove, is a sweeping epic that follows a group of cowboys on a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1986 and was later adapted into a popular television miniseries.
McMurtry’s other notable works include The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment, and The Desert Rose. He was also a prolific screenwriter and wrote the screenplay for several films, including Brokeback Mountain, which was based on a short story by Annie Proulx.
Awards and Achievements
Over the course of his long and prolific career, McMurtry received numerous awards and accolades for his contributions to American literature. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, he won a National Book Award, five Spur Awards, and the National Humanities Medal. In 2014, he was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation.
McMurtry’s impact on American literature is immeasurable. His ability to capture the essence of the American West and its people has made him one of the most beloved and celebrated authors of his generation.
Top Larry McMurtry Books to Start With
Whether you’re new to McMurtry’s work or a longtime fan, these essential titles are must-reads for anyone looking to discover the best of his writing.
Widely regarded as McMurtry’s masterpiece, Lonesome Dove is a sprawling epic that follows a group of adventurers as they journey across the American West in the 19th century. From dusty plains to verdant river valleys, McMurtry’s richly imagined world is populated by unforgettable characters, including the rough-and-tumble cowboy duo of Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call.
The novel explores themes of love, loyalty, and redemption, and is a masterclass in storytelling that will leave you captivated from start to finish.
The Last Picture Show
Set in a dying Texas town in the 1950s, The Last Picture Show is a poignant coming-of-age story that explores the complex relationships and sexual awakenings of a group of teenagers on the cusp of adulthood. McMurtry’s portrayal of small-town life is both nostalgic and unsentimental, and his characters are flawed, human, and deeply relatable.
Terms of Endearment
Told over the course of several decades, Terms of Endearment is a heartfelt family drama that centers on the relationship between a mother and daughter. McMurtry’s keen eye for detail and his ear for authentic dialogue bring this multigenerational saga to life, as we follow the ups and downs of the fiercely independent Aurora Greenway and her headstrong daughter, Emma.
If you’re a fan of Westerns, you’ll love McMurtry’s ability to transport you to a different time and place. In Lonesome Dove, the vast expanse of the American West is a character in its own right, and McMurtry’s descriptions of the landscape are so vivid that you can practically feel the dust on your skin and smell the campfire smoke in the air.
But McMurtry’s talents don’t stop at Westerns. In The Last Picture Show, he captures the essence of small-town life in a way that is both authentic and universal. The town of Thalia, Texas may be a fictional place, but its inhabitants are real people with real problems, hopes, and dreams.
And in Terms of Endearment, McMurtry proves that he is just as skilled at crafting intimate family dramas as he is at sweeping epics. The relationship between Aurora and Emma is at the heart of the novel, and McMurtry’s portrayal of their bond is both tender and unsentimental.
So whether you’re in the mood for a Western, a coming-of-age tale, or a family drama, Larry McMurtry has something for you. These three books are just the beginning of a rich and rewarding reading journey.
The Lonesome Dove Series
For fans of Lonesome Dove, the subsequent books in the series offer a chance to revisit some of McMurtry’s most beloved characters and locales while exploring new themes and storylines.
Set several years before the events of Lonesome Dove, Comanche Moon chronicles the early adventures of Woodrow Call and Gus McCrae as they are tasked with maintaining peace on the wild Texas frontier. The novel offers a sweeping vision of history and a vivid portrait of life in the American West at a time of great change and upheaval.
The story begins with a young Woodrow Call and Gus McCrae, who are still Texas Rangers, being sent on a mission to stop a group of Comanche Indians who have been raiding settlements in Texas. Along the way, they encounter a variety of challenges, including hostile Indians, treacherous terrain, and the harsh realities of life on the frontier. As they journey deeper into the wilderness, they begin to question their own beliefs and values, and the nature of the world they live in.
The novel also explores the complex relationships between the different groups of people living in the West at the time, including the Comanche Indians, the Mexican government, and the American settlers. McMurtry’s vivid descriptions of the landscape and the people who inhabit it make Comanche Moon a must-read for anyone interested in the history and culture of the American West.
Streets of Laredo
Years have passed since the events of Lonesome Dove, and Woodrow Call is now a grizzled bounty hunter tracking down a murderous outlaw named Joey Garza. Along the way, he crosses paths with a colorful cast of characters, including a former prostitute and a young Mexican boy. The novel is a tense and poetic meditation on justice, revenge, and the complexities of life on the frontier.
As Call tracks down Garza, he is forced to confront his own mortality and the choices he has made in his life. The novel also explores the changing social and economic landscape of the West, as the cattle drives that once defined the region give way to new industries and ways of life. McMurtry’s skillful portrayal of the characters and their struggles makes Streets of Laredo a powerful and moving work of literature.
Dead Man’s Walk
The first novel in the Lonesome Dove series, Dead Man’s Walk follows Woodrow Call and Gus McCrae as they embark on their first great adventure as young Texas Rangers. Their journey takes them across the harsh and unforgiving landscape of the American Southwest, where they encounter hostile Indians, treacherous terrain, and the full range of human folly and bravery.
As they make their way towards Santa Fe, Call and McCrae are forced to confront their own limitations and the harsh realities of life on the frontier. Along the way, they encounter a variety of colorful characters, including a Mexican bandit, a group of Apache Indians, and a group of American soldiers. McMurtry’s vivid descriptions of the landscape and the people who inhabit it make Dead Man’s Walk a thrilling and immersive read.
The novel also explores the complex relationships between the different groups of people living in the West at the time, including the Mexican government, the American settlers, and the various Native American tribes. McMurtry’s skillful portrayal of these relationships adds depth and nuance to the story, making Dead Man’s Walk a must-read for anyone interested in the history and culture of the American West.
The Berrybender Narratives
The Berrybender Narratives are a quartet of novels set in the 1830s that follow the titular family as they embark on a hunting expedition along the Missouri River. Blending period detail with McMurtry’s trademark wit and insight, these novels offer a unique window into a fascinating and often overlooked chapter of American history.
The first novel in the series introduces readers to the Berrybender family and their flamboyant patriarch, Lord Berrybender. As they make their way up the Missouri River, they encounter a wide range of characters, including a legendary mountain man named Jim Snow and a group of Blackfoot Indians. The novel is a raucous and irreverent satire of the British aristocracy and a celebration of the rugged individualism that defined the American West.
The Wandering Hill
As the Berrybender family continues their journey upriver, they encounter new challenges and dangers, including hostile Indian tribes and a group of ruthless fur traders. Along the way, Lord Berrybender’s daughter, Tasmin, falls in love with Jim Snow, setting off a chain of events that will change the course of their lives forever.
By Sorrow’s River
In the third novel in the series, the Berrybenders find themselves caught up in the tumultuous aftermath of the Mexican-American War. As tensions between Americans and Mexicans boil over, the family must navigate treacherous political waters while also contending with their own personal demons and desires.
Folly and Glory
The final novel in the series sees the Berrybender family facing their greatest challenges yet as they make their way across the American West in search of adventure and fortune. Along the way, they must confront their own mortality and the harsh realities of life in a rapidly changing world. The novel is a fitting finale to McMurtry’s epic vision of the American frontier.
With his unparalleled storytelling skills and his ability to capture the complex realities of life in the American West, Larry McMurtry remains one of the most important and influential writers of the past few decades. Whether you’re a longtime fan or a newcomer to his work, these top titles are must-reads that showcase the depth and breadth of his literary talent.
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