Page 16


duces the characters that appear in both the novel and the mini-series Lonesome Dove. \(Comanche Moon is already under contract Call and McRae are both promoted to the rank of captain. So when the novel is not foreshadowing what’s to come in the already-published Lonesome Dove \(as it does when the historical character Richard King demonstrates how easy it is to herd cattle from Mexico across the ford at Lonesome story, promoting Call and McRae and moving their women onto other men. Most of the secondary characters \(with a are also developed in Comanche Moon: Clara, the merchant princess who loves McRae but marries a dull Nebraska horse trader because she cannot endure waiting in Austin while McRae is out ranging; Maggie, the vulnerable prostitute who gives birth to Call’s son, Newt, then finds respectable work; Jake, the reluctant ranger who takes up with Maggie when Call won’t have her; Deets, the black ranger whose race keeps him at the margin of the troop; Pea Eye, the journeyman ranger whose secondary role allows him to admit his fear of much of what he does to earn a living; and Blue Duck, the cowardly, evil son of a Comanche chief and a Mexican woman captured in a raid. Through small character hooks and back stories, McMurtry moves each of these secondary characters toward Lonesome Dove, a truly great novel, which, I suspect, most readers of Comanche Moon will have already read. This achronology makes the series less appealing and at times tedious. McMurtry has done this before, and perhaps coined the term “prequel” in these pages in 1971, when he warned reviewer Steve Barthelme that if he didn’t like Moving On, he should know that it was part of a trilogy, and that a prequel was already partly written. But the contemporary characters at the center of those novels are more interesting \(perhaps because they are less have by now advanced a singular narrative through four long novels. In that sense, I’m glad that we’ve reached the end of the trail. And in this novel there are three trails. 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER There is the trail south, which leads from the Caprock through Austin and on to the Gulf, and which Comanche Chief Buffalo Hump follows it into the Great Raid of .1856. The raid anticipates the end of the Comanche way of life; after attacking Austin, Victoria, San Antonio, and scores of smaller river bottom settlements, the Comanches will only return in small bands, until they are finally dispersed by the Rangers. When it works best, McMurtry’s writing about the last Comanches on the comancheria is infused with both nostalgia and tragedy. When it doesn’t work, its Eurocentric perspective is so overwhelming that it is offensive. There is the trail southwest from Austin to Southwest Texas, which serves the purpose of locating the fictitious town of Lonesome Dove. There, several characters from MCMURTRY’S MEXICO IS A “DARK PLACE,” UNKNOWABLE, AND PEOPLED BY SINISTER AMADO PENA CARICA-TURES, WHO SPEND MOST OF THEIR TIME EITHER HUDDLED AROUND SOOTY CAMPFIRES COOKING TORTILLAS OR SHARPENING KNIVES. the Lonesome Dove novel are introduced. And at Lonesome Dove, King Ranch cattle baron Richard King appears as a rancher who has not yet made his fortune smuggling cotton and guns during the Civil War, when Playa Bagdad and Matamoros became the back door ports of entry for the Confederacy. And there is the trail west from Austin into Mexico, which along with the Comanche wars, provides the new material that this novel brings to the four-book series. When the narrative heads west, across the trans-Pecos into Mexico, it suddenly seems that McMurtry has written a parody of Cormac McCarthy into whose barren Mexican Sierra Inish Skull wanders in search of his stolen horse, Hector. McMurtry’s Mexico is a “dark place,” unknowable, and peopled by sinister Amado Peria caricatures, who spend most of their time either huddled around sooty campfires cooking tortillas or sharpening knives. There is also McCarthy’s white-trash/brown-trash leitmotif, as seen in Yellow Canyon, where the dusky Mexican from as far away as Cincinnati. There are also elaborate accounts of cruelty, for which McCarthy is known. In one example, Ahu mado’s Cincinnati scout helps his boss, and a hometown skinner named Goyeto, punish a vaquero for letting a cougar eat one of Ahumado’s horses. The punishment is your standard public partial skinning. [Goyeto] motioned to Tudwal, who came hurrying over. Just as he got there, old Goyeto make a few cuts and began to peel the little strip of skin down the nape of the young caballero’s neck. The boy, not understanding that he was being given only a -light punishment, began to scream as loudly as he could. As Goyeto peeled and cut, pulling the strip below the boy’s shoulder blades, the boy screamed so loudly that it was impossible to hear Tudwal’s news. Before the strip of skin was pulled away past his hips the boy fainted and Goyeto stopped and squatted on his heels. Ahumado did not approve of skinning unconscious men. McMurtry’s prose is of course more straightforward than McCarthy’s, and his characters don’t speak in the transliterated Spanish or border pidgin common to McCarthy’s characters. But as this story crosses the border, both McMurtry’s sense of place and development of character become similar to what readers might expect in The Crossing or All the Pretty Horses. There’s even a loopy Mayan cosmology involving Parrot and Jaguar, which reads like a potted version of the Popul Vuh myth \(justified by the fact that Ahumado is, of all things, a displaced Mayan bandit in Northlittle fun at McCarthy. Maybe this just happens to white writers who go south. Or maybe McMurtry is just bored with it all, and has set out to entertain his readers and himself with a brief escape from the Texas in which Gus McRae and Woodrow McCall have been trapped, since Lonesome Dove won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985. . ANDERSON & COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES TWO JEFFERSON SOUARE AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731 512-453-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip DECEMBER 19, 1997