Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date: November 2000
Duration: 6 hours 35 minutes
" 'It's best to walk small around Mary Margaret,' Uncle Seth allowed. 'You just need to walk a little smaller on a cloudy day.' "
The Mary Margaret of this small masterpiece of a novel by Larry McMurtry--the acknowledged master of the Western yarn on the large and on the small scale, as he himself has proved in such big books as Lonesome Dove and Comanche Moon, as well as some hugely successful smaller ones like Buffalo Girls and Anything for Billy--is the awesomely determined heroine of Boone's Lick, mother of four living (and problem) children and four dead ones (about average for motherhood in the mid-19th century in Missouri), who makes her first appearance in the story by shooting the local sheriff's horse dead in front of her own children.
Mary Margaret is the force of nature that animates this fast-moving, engaging and often very funny novel. She is one of the best and most unforgettable women in Larry McMurtry's gallery of unforgettable women characters, a 19th-century version of the formidable Aurora Greenway of Terms of Endearment who is willing to go to the ends of the earth (in this case Fort Laramie) to sort things out with her husband, whose roving eye and ways have led him, she suspects (correctly), to a succession of half-breed families spread across most of the frontier. She drags her own family along with her for support, and picks up a succession of inimitably McMurtryesque companions on the way.
Boone's Lick is based on the Bent family, famous traders on the Old Santa Fe Trail, but at its center it is the story of a woman in love--for Mary Margaret is in love, with her brother-in-law Seth Cecil (who bears some resemblance to Gus, in Lonesome Dove), but married to his brother Dickie, a freighter who hauls supplies to the forts on the Oregon trail. Mary Margaret, tired of seeing her husband only about two nights a year--visits which invariably result in pregnancy--decides to go upriver to confront him, taking Seth, the four living children, her sister Rosie (a whore with a heart of gold) and her cranky father, Grandpa Crackenthorpe, with her in a wagon.
The West they have to cross, just after the Civil War (in which Seth shot himself in the knee as a Federal sharpshooter) is full of bigger-than-life characters, including Father Villy, a giant Friar Tuck of a priest, who accompanies them on their way, and a place where danger lurks everywhere as the army builds forts to protect the routes of the settlers and the Indians react with anger.