Book review: Boone’s Lick
by Larry McMurtry
Simon and Schuster
This is a fun read and an easy read, so much so that it might be several days before you think there is more here than you realized.
This short novel, like the much longer “Lonesome Dove,” McMurtry’s earlier Western epic, is about searching.
It is a funny tale, starting just after the Civil War, with a Ma Kettle-type family in Boone’s Lick, Mo., which is peopled with lots of improbable and probable characters who start off across the prairie searching for Pa Kettle in Wyoming.
It manages to bring in some real characters, including Wild Bill Hickok and the dead man’s hand, and the warrior chief Red Cloud railing against the white man’s incursions along the Bozeman Trail.
The story about the horse that becomes an elk is not only funny; it pops up several times in the novel as part Christian parable, part Indian myth and part Freudian analysis.
The novel is full of Western lore, entrancing characters, adventure and, hidden in the nooks and crannies, some little revelations about who we are.
The deceptively brief description of the Sioux “power moon” is crisp and powerful, as the terrified soldiers and settlers wait out the night at Fort Kearney where they have just witnessed the deaths of Cavalry Col. Fetterman and his entire company of 80 troopers in a Sioux ambush.
The epilogue is vintage McMurtry, a satisfying six pages where some of the searchers find it, some don’t, and some do but don’t know it.
And don’t neglect the cover painting, “Scene Near Fort Laramie” by Alfred Jacob Miller.
– Curt Sutliff
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