“The streets of Laredo”, a premonitory western

Phew. That’s probably what you’ll say to yourself as you turn the last page of this dense book whose oversized characters and impossible landscapes won’t leave you for a long time. Words fail to describe this immense saga set in the American West at the end of the 19th century.e century. Grand? Homeric?

In fact, the series Lonesome Dovethe first part of which won the Pulitzer-Fiction in 1986, is divided into two other large novels and ends here with The streets of Laredo (1993), finally published in French in the pocket collection of Gallmeister (Totem). One can read the novel without having to know what happened in the first part. Be warned though; it is a particularly harsh story that takes place on the border of Texas and Mexico, on the borders of what was still at the time the end of the “civilized” world.

The word “civilized” is moreover rather inopportune in this implacable universe where violence, brutality and the law of the strongest dominate. And it is also to put an end to the violence that the bounty hunter Woodrow Call finds himself at the head of a small team gone in search of a train robber – who takes great pleasure in robbing travelers the wealthiest before shooting them down — and, incidentally, of a psychopathic man burner. Nothing less.

Survive at all costs

The journey will be long and particularly difficult. We will first see Call’s heterogeneous team being formed before it crosses the Mexican border… then its members will disappear before our eyes, one by one. There will soon be only the old ranger left who will have had time to rid the world of the ignoble Mox-Mox, the man burner, before being struck down by the train robber too. Diminished, seriously affected, Call will nevertheless accomplish his mission thanks to one of his former acolytes who will finally eliminate the outlaw.

The least we can say is that the plot is dense and it is ridiculous to think of summarizing it in a paragraph. What should be remembered above all is that McMurtry’s book is based on extraordinary characters evolving in inhuman landscapes where they must constantly face their limits. The men, and even more the women, who dare to live in the lands where Call and his team travel, constantly struggle to survive in the face of the most primitive brutality. In this West, people are treated like cattle, but beyond the mythical character of the vigilante cowboy, we will be surprised to discover absolutely dominant female characters who manage to gradually change the situation.

Remember in closing that Larry McMurtry, who died last year, is a huge character. He has seen several of his books brought to the cinema (Hud, The Last Picture Show, etc.) and on television, often in the form of series. Before earning his Pulitzer, he wrote among other things Terms of Endearment (1975)… which won the Best Picture Oscar when it was adapted for the big screen in 1983. He also won an Oscar for co-writing Brokeback Mountain (2006). A monument, then. And a great book.

The streets of Laredo

★★★★

Larry McMurtry, translated from English (United States) by Christophe Cuq, Gallmeister “Totem”, Paris, 2022, 775 pages

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“The streets of Laredo”, a premonitory western