Newspaper article International New York Times

Larry McMurtry and Life in the Old West

Newspaper article International New York Times

Larry McMurtry and Life in the Old West

Article excerpt

For much of his 53-year literary career, Mr. McMurtry has tried to demythologize the West, filling his fiction with unsentimental portraits of those who toil to survive those empty landscapes.

For Larry McMurtry -- the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Lonesome Dove" and co-author of the Oscar-winning screenplay for "Brokeback Mountain" -- one of the most interesting, and overlooked, aspects of life in the Old West was just how profoundly isolating the "westering" experience could be. "Those plains, those mountains, those deserts were empty, except for the Indians, who didn't make the settlers less lonely," said Mr. McMurtry, 77.

For much of his 53-year literary career, Mr. McMurtry has tried to demythologize the West, filling his fiction with unsentimental portraits of tragic cowboys, violent rustlers and lost souls of all types, many of them toiling to survive those same empty landscapes.

"It's generous space. A field of dreams, you might say, a field that's given my imagination free rein."

Below are excerpts from a conversation with Mr. McMurtry, whose latest novel is "The Last Kind Words Saloon," about the landscapes and mythology of the Old West.

You've said that one of the objectives for writing so many novels set in the West was to try to figure out what the word "frontier" meant to your grandparents when they first settled in Texas during the 1880s. Any conclusions?

A.What I've concluded is that my grandparents didn't have much time for theory. In the new land, Texas, they had no time for anything but work. Of course they hadn't much time in Missouri, either, but Missouri was violent, and Texas was empty. They knew violence, and I suppose that emptiness seemed to offer a better option.

Q. How has the sparseness of the plains affected you?

A.I still feel sky-deprived when in the forested places. Many, many people born to the skies of the plains feel that way. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.