Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Comanche Moon by Larry McMurtry

In Comanche Moon, Larry McMurtry has a deep sense of his characters and what they might do at any given moment. This often leads to scenes that ring true for the characters, but don't advance the narrative, or, indeed, subvert the narrative drive. This sprawling novel is not one of plot. It is one of detail, and character-driven meandering.

I like meandering, when it's done well. And this is. Even though I did get a little annoyed once or twice when there was a scene that did nothing to advance the narrative thrown in there to show why one character would make a completely left-field decision that would have no impact on the later story. Not too irritated, but a little. He made it work, is all I can say.

Of course, to write a novel about a sprawling cast of characters, and letting them lead the way, you have to have good characters. And he does. Focusing on the Texas Rangers Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Cull, this book also weaves around McCrae's lost love, Cull's ignored woman, other rangers, the former leader of their Ranger troop, Inish Scull, Comanche warriors who are being pushed off their land, a Kickapoo scout for the Rangers, and a Mexican bandit and slavekeeper who captures Scull.

Each follows their own agendas, and they are frequently surprising and unexpected, but always consistent with what we know. It takes place over huge swathes of time.

(Side note: I was somewhat surprised to see that this book was dedicated to Susan Sontag - on research, it seems she was a good friend of McMurtry's.)

None of the characters are cardboard, all have their own desires, and with all good novels, those frequently conflict. The women are well drawn and interesting. I don't have the knowledge to know whether or not Native readers would feel the same way about the Native characters, but they aren't caricatures, anyway. They are all complex and unique.

If you're looking for a novel with a driving narrative, this is not the one for you. But as a character-driven look at Texas as it changes, as more white settlers enter, as the Rangers weather the Civil War and find themselves increasingly irrelevant to a more settled society, it is very good.

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