Monday, May 4, 2009

Further flash:
Lonesome Dove and the joys of McMurtry

A couple days ago, I mentioned my love for the book, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. It was turned into one of the best made-for-TV movies/mini-series ever (one of the best Westerns ever, IMO) starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones (amongst others). Except for Clint Eastwood, though, the Western as a genre in film and fiction seems to lack appeal for many folks. I think that is why I have often sought to champion the story to anyone who will sit still long enough.

Apart from being extremely well-written (it rightfully won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for fiction), the book is a wonderful story of cowboys and the Old West - and, at the same time, those trappings of the story are irrelevant to enjoying the book as a tremendously rich and moving work of fiction. Or to put it more simply: you can love this book whether you like Westerns - or you hate them. All you need to enjoy Lonesome Dove is to love a good story (if you love a LONG story, that doesn't hurt either).

I'm telling you all that, so I can tell you this: While spending time thinking about and writing my "flash fiction" piece for The Raisin Chronicles*, I recalled that within the sprawling tale of Lonesome Dove**, there is a favorite passage of mine that almost qualifies as "flash fiction".

McMurtry has 600 pages to set the scene before this paragraph appears in the novel; I'll just tell you this: The following passage refers to a remembrance of July Johnson, a young sheriff from Fort Smith, Arkansas. One of the plot threads in Lonesome Dove involves July's search for his missing wife, which takes him from from Texas to Nebraska.

Listen to what Larry McMurtry can do with 216 words.***

All during the trip [July] had been haunted by the memory of something that had happened in Fort Smith several years before. One of the nicest men in town, a cotton merchant, had gone to Memphis on a business trip, only to have his wife take sick while he was gone. They tried to send a telegram to notify the man, but he was on his way back and the telegram never got delivered. The man's name was John Fisher. As he rode back into Fort Smith, John Fisher saw a burying party out behind the church. Being a neighborly man, he had ridden over to see who had died, and the people had all stopped, stricken, for they were burying his wife. July had been helping to cover the coffin. He never forgot the look on John Fisher's face when he realized he was a day late - his wife had died the afternoon before his return. Though a healthy man, John Fisher only lived another year himself. If he ran into someone on the street who had seen his wife on her sickbed he always asked, "Do you think Jane might have lived if I'd got back sooner?" Everyone told him no, you couldn't have done a thing, but John Fisher didn't believe them.
If you enjoyed that tidbit, I hope you'll pick up a copy of Lonesome Dove and give yourself a real treat.

Take care.

* If you haven't been to her site before, I highly recommend that you check out some of Jeanne's older posts. She is a wonderful writer - you'll find some gems. And new flash fiction pieces are still being submitted - some great stuff!
** 850 - 950 pages depending on whether you're reading hardcover or paperback. Of course, I have both.
*** Microsoft Word counted them for me.


Middle Aged Woman said...

Really, I think you could just take the last two sentences to make a flash fiction...from "If he ran into someone on the street..." McMurtry is amazing.

Jim Styro said...

I'd include more - probably change a sentence to read "As he rode back into Fort Smith, Arkansas, after a two-week trip to Memphis, John Fisher saw..."

But it's not an improvement over the original.