Monday, February 17, 2020
Leaving Cheyenne - Larry McMurtry
Posted by JaneGS
Last September I read Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer's Craft, by Natalie Goldberg, and in it she mentioned Leaving Cheyenne by Larry McMurtry a few times. Now, I cannot remember exactly the context, what McMurtry did particularly well with the novel, whether it was a sense of place, an insight into character, or relevance of plot, but I made a mental note that I wanted to read the book, got a copy, and was delighted to discover that its publication in 1962 rendered it eligible for a Back to the Classics challenge book.
I assumed that Leaving Cheyenne would take place in Wyoming, but no, it's set in rural Texas, closest big town is Wichita Falls, near the Oklahoma border, around 1900 to 1950s. It's dry, dusty, bleak, and barren. The wind blows and life is not easy.
The story is told in three parts, with each of the three main characters telling part of the story. Gid, short for Gideon, is a rancher's son in love with Molly Taylor, a free-spirited, lovely daughter of the neighborhood drunk, and best friends with Johnny McCloud, a cowboy with no aspirations other than to be the best cowboy around. Johnny is, of course, also in love with Mollly.
Gid's story consumes about half of the novel, and picks up the story of the threesome when they are nineteen. Gid is a hard worker, who plays by the rules, and is ruled by his conscience and code of ethics that together form a straitjacket around his life.
Molly continues the story of the three friends later in life, after they have all lost loved ones in WWII, and are facing an uncertain middle age. She is the anchor to both Gid and Johnny, giving them love and support when they need it, but not compromising her own need to be her own person.
Finally, Johnny tells of their old age, when they are wearing out and yet struggling to reconcile the desires and dreams of their youth. Despite Johnny's lack of ambition, I found him endearing in his understanding and acceptance of himself as he is.
It is a good book--the setting and characters and the way they affect and influence each other over time is poignant and memorable. I'm not sure it is a great book, and I'm still not sure why Natalie Goldberg promoted it in her own book, but it was a treat to read and think about.
I'm counting it in the Back to the Classics challenge as my genre book.