Larry McMurtry returns to Texas

November 02, 1997|By Paul Moore | Paul Moore,SUN STAFF

"Comanche Moon," by Larry McMurtry. Simon & Schuster. 752 pages. $28.50.

Most of veteran writer Larry McMurtry's novels have been set in Texas and, in metaphorical terms, have been about Texas-sized subjects: betrayal, violence, redemption, friendship, courage, cruelty, power and sex.

Whether in historical or contemporary settings, these novels are rich in Lone Star details and are strongly character-driven. McMurtry, whose career spans four decades, achieved breakthrough success in the early 1980s with "Lonesome Dove," a powerful and beautifully written book about 19th-century Texans. It later became a much-acclaimed TV miniseries.

Since then, McMurtry has written sequels to previous novels, among them "The Last Picture Show," "Terms of Endearment" and "All My Friends Are Going to be Strangers."

Now comes "Comanche Moon," the third volume of the "Lonesome Dove" series. "Comanche Moon," a sprawling, sometimes entertaining but mostly unfocused novel, chronicles the lives of Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call in their early years as Texas Rangers. While "Comanche Moon" has other engaging characters and a poignant ending, the book reads more like a treatment for a future miniseries than a novel.

The story begins in the 1850s, years of bitter fighting between the Texas Rangers and the Comanche Indians for control of West Texas. The novel features Harvard-educated Ranger captain Inish Scull and his lascivious wife, Inez, the mercurial Comanche chief Buffalo Hump, his renegade son, Blue Duck, and the Comanche horse thief Kicking Wolf. But the relationship between the emotional Gus McCrae and the taciturn Woodrow Call is the novel's most compelling element.

Murderous Rampage

When Scull's legendary horse is stolen on patrol, the Ranger captain leaves his command, appoints McCrae and Call captains and sets out on foot to reclaim his mount. The ensuing chain of events culminates in a murderous raid on the state capital by Buffalo Hump's warriors. After the remaining Rangers return to a devastated Austin, they must confront the ramifications of the raid on their wives and sweethearts.

When word later reaches the capital that Scull has been captured by a sadistic Mexican bandit, the Texas governor dispatches McCrae and Call to deliver the bandit's ransom demand for Scull's release.

Meanwhile, Blue Duck tires of his father's traditional Comanche values and sets out on his own career of raping, burning and pillaging across the Texas landscape.

After a variety of subplots, the novel advances to the years after the Civil War, when the main characters converge in a final sequence of events. But by then, McMurtry has introduced so many incidental characters that the story's narrative has mostly been obscured.

The return of Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call may be enough to satisfy some of the fans of "Lonesome Dove." Along with other McMurtry characters such as Aurora Greenway in "Terms of Endearment" and Ben "The Lion" in "The Last Picture Show," Gus and Woodrow will endure forever in readers' minds. Unfortunately, "Comanche Moon" doesn't provide them with a memorable context in which to flourish.

Paul Moore is news editor of The Sun, where he has overall responsibility for the newspaper's front page. He lived and worked in Texas from 1976 to 1982.

Pub Date: 11/02/97

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