I have thought long and hard about the many, many books I have read over the years and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that I can say is authentically western.
And so, after the finishing the amazing, awe-inspiring, 1776, my mom recommended I give a Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove) novel a try called, Leaving Cheyenne. It’s about a love triangle between two best friends, Gid and Johnny, who are constantly pursuing the affections of Molly through generations. Apparently it’s told from the point of view of all three characters through the course of some forty odd years but I have not yet made it past the first section.
It’s a lighthearted book and McMurtry writes in very accessible prose. I have zero experience as a teenage ranch hand but through Gid’s words I can see the ranch and his goodnatured but infuriating father. I can feel the jealousy he experiences when Johnny gets Molly alone in a voting booth. It’s simple writing but the dialogue and prose make it very engaging and authentic.
The first four sentences of the novel are an example of terrific writing. We learn so much about the narrator in four succinct, memorable, and efficient sentences:
When I woke up Dad was standing by the bed shaking my foot. I opened my eyes, but he never stopped shaking it. He shook it like it was a fence post and he was testing it to see if it was in the ground solid enough. All my life that’s the way he’d wake me up-I hated it like poison.
We learn so much about Gid without having to be told much of anything. It’s clearly established that the relationship between father and son is tenuous at best and that it will clearly influence the narrator throughout the story.
It’d be really easy to just write that Gid and his father didn’t see eye to eye on things and that Gid was resentful of his father because of it. However, in 64 words, McMurtry has given us an example of this relationship that is far more concrete and lasting than what 500 words could say about it. He has shown us the relationship rather than telling us about it. It’s things like this that separates the men from the boys.
Further, I find the simile of his dad shaking his foot like a fence post to be almost perfect. Can’t you imagine this clearly? Can’t you see someone doing it to you? Can’t you see your foot shaking back and forth just so, testing the strength of the post in the ground?
It’s masterful writing and I love it.