Friday, October 20, 2017

Pulitzers - Great, Good & Terrible

As I continue to make progress on my goal to read all the Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction, I've recently completed a great book, a good book, and a terrible book!


The 1986 winner, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, is 945 pages long and a fantastic story about two former Rangers, Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call, who leave Lonesome Dove, Texas, and drive a herd of cattle to Montana to establish the first cattle ranch in that territory.

The book is divided into three parts and includes lots of characters: Jake Spoon, a former Ranger with McCrae and Call who returns to Texas after accidentally killing a man in Arkansas; Lorena, the whore from Lonesome Dove who ends up on the cattle drive and endures tremendous hardships after being stolen by Blue Duck, an Indian bandit; Deets, a black scout who has been with McCrae and Call since the Ranger days; July Johnson, the sheriff from Arkansas who sets off to find Jake but ends up having to search for his wife Ellie who ran off looking for her previous lover; and Clara, Gus's old love who lives in Ogallala, Nebraska. Then there are the cowhands hired for the cattle drive, the two Irishmen the crew pick up while stealing cattle in Mexico, the cooks who keep the boys fed during the drive, the two pigs who walk all the way to Montana, and a host of other characters whose paths they cross along the way.

Of course, there are some not-so-savory parts to this story set in the 1870s - saloons & whores & drinking & killing & outlaws & hangings. Yet, the story would be unrealistic without all these components. This story draws the reader in and the characters are so well developed that it's hard not to feel a huge loss when several characters are suddenly scalped by Blue Duck mid-way through the novel. In fact, many (many!) characters die in the rough wilderness setting. The ending of the book is pretty good, although I discovered there are a couple of prequels and a couple of sequels to this story.

This book is extremely well-written, well-paced, and believable (despite the fact that everyone eventually converges at Clara's house). After I put this book in Robbie's to-read pile, we watched the four-part mini-series, which is a great adaptation of the book!

Empire Falls by Richard Russo is the 2002 winner. This is another long book (although not as long as Lonesome Dove!), however it is a good book, easy to read and well-paced. The story is set in a small town in Main and follows Miles Roby, who has run the Empire Grill for the past twenty years. He is currently getting a divorce and worries about his daughter, who he affectionately calls Tick. Along with the divorce, Miles has to deal with his dad who is a essentially a bum and eventually runs off to Florida with a senile old priest and his soon-to-be ex-wife's boyfriend who insists on hanging out at the Empire Grill every day.

The host of characters are well-developed and there are several story lines in this book, some shrouded in mystery. I did figured out quite a few of the "mysteries" early on - like who the man was that Miles' mother met at Martha's Vineyard when he was a little boy and who ran over Cindy Whiting, the crippled daughter of Francine Whiting (a rich woman who owns practically everything in the town of Empire Falls). This was a good read, although the story was not so compelling that it couldn't be put down easily.

I really don't have much to say about A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, the 1981 winner. This terrible book that's set in New Orleans is full of debauchery and stupidity and makes fun of everybody. There is not one group of people portrayed in a good light, and I can't think of a single positive thing to say about it.

Have you read any of these books? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. As a general rule, anything that's won a literary prize is one to avoid, in my opinion!

  2. It's fun to pick a theme but I would mostly agree with Ruth's assessment. For me I usually stay away from books recommended by TV stars in their book clubs.

    Hopefully your next group of book choices will all be winners.

  3. One of my book groups read Empire Falls, and I loved it. Lonesome Dove sounds great, but I try to avoid books over 500 pages since my "want to read" list is so very long! Thanks for sharing!

  4. I read the Confederacy of Dunces years ago when someone told me it was his favorite book. I hated it! I figured I must have missed something because I thought it was so terrible.

  5. I started Empire Falls once and didn't stick with it. I don't remember why, I guess, just as you said, it was not so compelling that I could not put it down. I want to reread Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, it is very long also. I might have to wait until the dreary cold days of February when I will want to keep my nose buried in a book and the rest of me cuddled under a blanket.


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