The Last Gasp of the Mythic West

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The Last Kind Words Saloon, by Larry McMurtry

I hadn’t read a McMurtry in ages, so this one just out, I felt the whimsy of new books in my bones and bought it. It’s a short read – two and three-page chapters, the book not over 50,000 words. McMurtry himself calls the book “a poem in prose,” and I suppose I can go with that.
A cursory read will convince you that McMurtry is washed up, a brain-starved has-been now trading on his fame. But a deeper read tells you that this book, like much of McMurtry’s books, trades on a masterful use of language. If there is indeed such a thing as a prose poem, The Last Kind Words Saloon is one. Rarely will you read a book with characters so lively, scenic depictions so vivid, and a story that’s really about nothing at all so memorable.

McMurtry traces Wyatt Earp and his brothers Warren and Morgan, along with the dentist-gunslinger Doc Holliday from one one-horse Texas panhandle cow town to the next, eventually heading west and ending up in Tombstone, Arizona, and their famous but brief dispute with the Clantons and McLaurys at the OK Corral.

There – a McMurtry plot for you.

Still the book, due in large part to McMurtry’s way with words, leaves one with an adventure built on little more than ennui. It’s a character study, not only of these famed people, but of the American west as it went down in a burst of gunfire.

My rating 18 of 20 stars

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