Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Non-Fiction

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Non-Fiction

Article excerpt

Byline: Simon Barker-Benfield, Times-Union staff writer

Title: Novel History: Historians and Novelists Confront America's Past (and each other)

Author: Mark C. Carnes, editor

Data: Simon & Schuster, 352 pages, $26

One day in a state far away in a time long ago, Larry McMurtry passed by an old church bus that said "Lonesome Dove Baptist Church." That was enough to give him the title for his best-selling story about a cattle drive from Texas to Montana in the late 1860s or early 1870s and the motivation to finish the book, which he had set aside to write two other novels.

"Acquiring a good title provoked me to finish the book," writes McMurtry, one of 20 writers in this genial collection of essays that pairs authors of historical novels with historians of the periods they are writing about.

McMurtry is paired with Elliot West, a McMurtry fan, who writes knowledgeably about Westerns as a genre and about the historical sources used by McMurtry.

West mildly chides McMurtry for forgetting to include the new transcontinental railroad his characters would have crossed with their herd.

McMurtry in turn replies that he had made a note to himself to do so but forgot and grumbles at how the story has taken on a life of its own.

The pairings include Libra by Don DeLillo, about Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, who is paired with the University of North Florida's David Courtwright.

DeLillo contradicts the official government report by having Oswald's third shot miss Kennedy. The fatal shot is fired by a second gunman, who DeLillo calls "Raymo."

Courtwright says he explores Libra as "a dissenting historical report and, beyond that, a meditation on the nature of history itself."

Or as the subtle and sardonic John Lukacs, a retired history professor who still manages to write a book a year, puts it in his essay on The Great Gatsby: "Every novel is a historical novel. …

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