Least favorite book by favorite author: Streets of Laredo

Day 4: Larry McMurtry is the author of nearly four dozen books, so maybe he’s too easy a target for the stone I’m casting today. He’s the classic example of a distinguished author whose most famous works are so widely admired that his newer efforts are judged too harshly in comparison.

In this case, right after reading McMurtry’s novel Lonesome Dove, which remains one of my favorite books, I bought Streets of Laredo and found it oppressively dark and pessimistic. I didn’t stop valuing the author’s work, but I stopped reading it.

In Grantland, a new interview with McMurtry and his writing partner Diana Ossana shines some light through the gloom over Laredo:

In 1991, McMurtry suffered a heart attack, leading to quadruple-bypass surgery. The experience was transformative. McMurtry endured deep emotional and psychological trauma. He tried diving back into life—he literally started swimming—but then something bad happened. “I was fine for about six weeks,” McMurtry said, “and then I was standing in front of a bookcase one day and I began to feel myself vanish.”

McMurtry retreated to Tucson and holed up with Ossana. He recuperated there over a period of almost three years. During that time he finished Streets of Laredo, the sequel to Lonesome Dove, at her kitchen counter. Ossana remembered reading it and feeling the weight of its sadness.

Streets of Laredo is a mournful old folk ballad whose American lyrics might have more in common with McMurtry’s state of mind than the novel at the time he was writing it.

McMurty’s new novel, published just last month, is The Last Kind Words Saloon. I should read it.

Streets of Laredo

As I walked down in the streets of Laredo
As I walked down in Laredo one day,
I spied a cowpuncher, all wrapped in white linen
Wrapped up in white linen and cold as the clay.

“I see by your outfit, that you are a cowboy.”
These words he did say as I slowly walked by.
“Come sit down beside me and hear my sad story,
For I’m shot in the chest, and today I must die.”

“‘Twas once in the saddle I used to go dashing,
‘Twas once in the saddle I used to go gay.
First down to Rosie’s, and then to the card-house,
Got shot in the breast, and I’m dying today.”

“Oh, beat the drum slowly and play the fife lowly,
And play the dead march as you carry me along;
Take me to the valley, and lay the sod o’er me,
For I’m a young cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong.”

“Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin,
Get six pretty maidens to bear up my pall.
Put bunches of roses all over my coffin,
Roses to deaden the clods as they fall.”

“Then swing your rope slowly and rattle your spurs lowly,
And give a wild whoop as you carry me along;
And in the grave throw me and roll the sod o’er me.
For I’m a young cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong.”

“Go bring me a cup, a cup of cold water.
To cool my parched lips,” the cowboy then said.
Before I returned, his soul had departed,
And gone to the round up – the cowboy was dead.

We beat the drum slowly and played the fife lowly,
And bitterly wept as we bore him along.
For we loved our comrade, so brave, young and handsome,
We all loved our comrade, although he’d done wrong.

(Lyrics courtesy of Wikipedia)

BookADay-The Borough Press

2 Replies to “Least favorite book by favorite author: Streets of Laredo

  1. I found Lonesome Dove exciting reading. By the end of th initial chapters, various characters had died, and I wondered who would be left at the book’s end. The ones who managed to stay alive seemed like real people, and the story was accurately weighted as functioning in a realistic, specific time and place. Like you, I then tried Streets of Laredo, and found it weak in comparison. Disappointed, I didn’t read much of his writing after that, so thanks for your information about his personal life, which explains the reason for the difference.

    I recently finished a new novel by an Australian writer known for books with insightful social and cultural commentary. I’m not sure why he decided to write another novel–it’s certainly not his strong suit. There’s nothing horribly wrong with this novel, but there’s nothing substantial or memorable. Disappointing.

  2. Maybe the Australian writer’s novels were first efforts that lay hidden until a publisher felt the author’s reputation would attract readers… I should say, book buyers.

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