This is Larry McMurtry's ballad in prose: his heartfelt tribute to a bygone era of the American West.
Larry McMurtry has done more than any other living writer to shape our literary imagination of the American West. With The Last Kind Words Saloon, he returns to the vivid and unsparing portrait of the nineteenth-century and cowboy lifestyle made so memorable in his classic Lonesome Dove. Evoking the greatest characters and legends of the Old Wild West, McMurtry tells the story of the closing of the American frontier through the travails of two of its most immortal figures: Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
Long Grass, Texas. Once hailed as heroes for their days of subduing drunks in Abilene and Dodge – more often with a mean look than a pistol – the taciturn Wyatt now idles away his time between bottles, while the dentist-turned-gunslinger Doc is more adept at poker than extracting teeth. With the buffalo herds gone, the Comanche defeated, and vast swaths of the Great Plains enclosed by cattle ranches, Wyatt and Doc live on, even as the storied West that forged their myths disappears.
McMurtry traces the rich and varied friendship of the heroic pair from the town of Long Grass to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in Denver, then to Mobetie, Texas, and finally to Tombstone, Arizona, culminating with the famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral, rendered here in McMurtry's stark and peerless prose.
As harsh and beautiful, and as brutal and captivating as the open range it depicts, The Last Kind Words Saloon celebrates the genius of one of the most original American writers.
McMurtry of Lonesome Dove fame returns to fiction (after Custer) with this uneven portrayal of the frontier friendship between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. McMurtry is a master of colorful character development and snappy dialogue, both nicely showcased here as Wyatt and Doc meander through Texas and Colorado to Arizona, drinking, gambling, whoring, and debating whether or not they ought to shoot folks who annoy them. As these two lethal saddle pals wander the West, McMurtry introduces other real-life figures in side-plots cattleman Charlie Goodnight; Quanah, the Comanche chief; Satanta, the Kiowa chief; and Buffalo Bill, whose adventures provide some action and humor, but add little to the Earp-Holliday story. McMurtry portrays Doc as a cuddly, funny drunk, but Wyatt is handled much differently. Here Wyatt is depicted as a moody, jealous wife beater, short-tempered and itching to pick a fight with anybody especially Old Man Clanton and his cattle-thieving family in Tombstone, Ariz. When Wyatt stirs up a fight with the Clantons, an ambush, murder, and a challenge result in deadly powder burning at the O.K. Corral. This whole choppy story leads up to the predictable shoot-out, but McMurtry's treatment of the Old West's most famous gunfight is abrupt and unconvincing, taking just eight uninspired sentences to describe. This revisionist western plays loose with historical facts, and is a disappointing effort from a Pulitzer Prize winning author.