Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Book review: Larry McMurtry reimagines gunfight at the OK Corral
First Published May 14 2014 11:57 am • Last Updated May 16 2014 04:28 pm

Larry McMurtry, descendant of Texas cattlemen, can’t stop writing stories about the American West. His latest novel, "The Last Kind Words Saloon," reimagines the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, an event he brought to life more vividly in his 2006 novel, "Telegraph Days."

In this version, itinerant lawman Wyatt Earp and his pal Doc Holliday, the dentist turned gambler/gunslinger, are in the frontier town of Long Grass, Texas, where Wyatt’s wife, Jessie, tends bar at the Last Kind Words Saloon.

At a glance

The Last Kind Words Saloon

By Larry McMurtry

Liveright Publishing Corp.

Pages » 224 pages

Cost » $24.95

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

A big cattle deal is going down between an English baron and Charles Goodnight, a real-life Texas Panhandle cattleman whom McMurtry has written about before. Historical figures like Buffalo Bill Cody and the Kiowa warriors Satank and Satanta drift in and out of the action, as do fictional characters from McMurtry’s earlier works, including Nellie Courtright, the lusty frontier journalist/narrator of "Telegraph Days."

Inevitably, Wyatt and Doc make their way to Tombstone, Ariz., where Wyatt reunites with his lawmen brothers Virgil and Morgan and begins feuding with the Clanton gang. The climactic events of Oct. 26, 1881, unfold in a few sentences, ending on an odd note of marital discord between Jessie and Wyatt.

McMurtry clearly isn’t interested in burnishing the Wyatt Earp legend — he’s portrayed as a surly, shiftless wife beater — but he doesn’t offer much of a counter history either. The novel — he calls it "a ballad in prose whose characters are afloat in time" — ends with an epilogue narrated by Nellie, a sort of alter ego for McMurtry, both of whom have made good money in Hollywood writing about the West.

Years after the gunfight, she discovers that Wyatt and Jessie are living in a dilapidated bungalow in San Pedro, Calif. Wyatt is "rheumy-eyed" and doesn’t remember much about the shootout. She regrets going to visit them until she spies the sign for the Last Kind Words Saloon in their junk-strewn yard.

"Not quite sure why I wanted it," she offers to buy it. When Jessie gives her the sign, she sticks it in the back of her car and drives home to Santa Monica. McMurtry — the Pulitzer Prize and Oscar-winning author of dozens of books and screenplays about the West, and an avid collector of rare books — may be suggesting that nearly a century and a half after the closing of the American frontier, its battered artifacts are as resonant as its stories.




Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.