The Last Kind Words Saloon: A Novel


New York Times BestsellerThe Last Kind Words Saloon marks the triumphant return of Larry McMurtry to the nineteenth-century West of his classic Lonesome Dove.In this "comically subversive work of fiction" (Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books), Larry McMurtry chronicles the closing of the American frontier through the travails of two of its most immortal figures, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Tracing their legendary friendship from the settlement of Long Grass, Texas, to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in ...
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The Last Kind Words Saloon: A Novel

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New York Times BestsellerThe Last Kind Words Saloon marks the triumphant return of Larry McMurtry to the nineteenth-century West of his classic Lonesome Dove.In this "comically subversive work of fiction" (Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books), Larry McMurtry chronicles the closing of the American frontier through the travails of two of its most immortal figures, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Tracing their legendary friendship from the settlement of Long Grass, Texas, to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in Denver, and finally to Tombstone, Arizona, The Last Kind Words Saloon finds Wyatt and Doc living out the last days of a cowboy lifestyle that is already passing into history. In his stark and peerless prose McMurtry writes of the myths and men that live on even as the storied West that forged them disappears. Hailed by critics and embraced by readers, The Last Kind Words Saloon celebrates the genius of one of our most original American writers.
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Editorial Reviews

Max Byrd - New York Times Book Review
“Larry McMurtry possesses one of the most engaging, tempting-to-imitate voices in contemporary American fiction, a voice so smooth and mellow you can almost hear the ice clink against the glass as he talks.”
Adam Wong - Seattle Times
“As always, McMurtry’s characters are plain-spoken but subtle and full of dry humor. . . . Moseying along with McMurtry is always worthwhile.”
Nathan Pensky - The Onion
“A beautiful, dreamy, deeply melancholy book, connecting legend and disparate threads of history in a seamless pastiche of tall tales drawn against the context of their real circumstances.”
Richard Eisenberg - People
“In this ‘ballad in prose,’ as McMurtry describes his latest book, he paints the familiar historical characters in unfamiliar ways… lovely.”
Joyce Carol Oates - New York Review of Books
“A deftly narrated, often comically subversive work of fiction… If Lonesome Dove is a chronicle of the cattle-driving West that contains within its vast, broad ranges a small but heartrending intimate tragedy of paternal neglect, The Last Kind Words Saloon is a dark postmodernist modernist comedy.”
Michael Lindgren - Washington Post
“Those who enjoy McMurtry’s rueful humor and understated tone of elegiac melancholy will devour the book in one setting.”
Laura Collins-Hughes - Boston Globe
“Such a comfortable Western that Sam Elliott might as well be narrating it directly into your ear. McMurtry intersperses comedy and romance…And once again, he's written some smart, tough women and a bunch of men who have no idea what to make of them.”
Adam Woog - Seattle Times
“[The Last Kind Words Saloon] is never dull, and it’s also very funny. As always, McMurtry's characters are plain-spoken but subtle and full of dry humor…Moseying along with McMurtry is always worthwhile.”
Publishers Weekly
McMurtry of Lonesome Dove fame returns to fiction (after Custer) with this uneven portrayal of the frontier friendship between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. McMurtry is a master of colorful character development and snappy dialogue, both nicely showcased here as Wyatt and Doc meander through Texas and Colorado to Arizona, drinking, gambling, whoring, and debating whether or not they ought to shoot folks who annoy them. As these two lethal saddle pals wander the West, McMurtry introduces other real-life figures in side-plots—cattleman Charlie Goodnight; Quanah, the Comanche chief; Satanta, the Kiowa chief; and Buffalo Bill, whose adventures provide some action and humor, but add little to the Earp-Holliday story. McMurtry portrays Doc as a cuddly, funny drunk, but Wyatt is handled much differently. Here Wyatt is depicted as a moody, jealous wife beater, short-tempered and itching to pick a fight with anybody—especially Old Man Clanton and his cattle-thieving family in Tombstone, Ariz. When Wyatt stirs up a fight with the Clantons, an ambush, murder, and a challenge result in deadly powder burning at the O.K. Corral. This whole choppy story leads up to the predictable shoot-out, but McMurtry’s treatment of the Old West’s most famous gunfight is abrupt and unconvincing, taking just eight uninspired sentences to describe. This revisionist western plays loose with historical facts, and is a disappointing effort from a Pulitzer Prize–winning author. (May)
Library Journal
In the waning days of the Old West, lawman Wyatt Earp, his sidekick Doc Holliday, and big-time rancher Charles Goodnight often cross paths, sometimes not even knowing what state or territory they are in. Cowboys fight over cattle, the few remaining Kiowa Indians commit brutal murders, and prostitutes outnumber wives. Wyatt and Doc gain employment with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, but when that shuts down, they end up in Tombstone, AZ. Wyatt opens the Last Kind Words Saloon and installs his wife, Jessie, as bartender but gets jealous when she pays attention to the male customers. In brief, scattershot chapters, McMurtry (Lonesome Dove) portrays nearly all his characters as cantankerous, fed up, or lovelorn. "Life was a peril, purely a peril," summarizes Goodnight when three unrelated herds of cattle intermingle, bringing his operations to a halt. Earlier in the novel, his outlandish partnership with an English lord evaporates when the aristocrat plummets off a cliff on a thoroughbred horse. VERDICT By turns droll, stark, wry, or raunchy, this peripatetic novel is a bit sketchy at times. The infamous gunfight at the OK Corral brings the novel to a dramatic end and will satisfy many readers who long for more from literary icon McMurtry. [See Prepub Alert, 12/16/13.]—Keddy Ann Outlaw, Houston
Kirkus Reviews
Prolific novelist and pop historian McMurtry (Custer, 2012, etc.) offers another pleasing yarn for fans of the Old West, none of whom will hanker for a trip to the dentist after reading it. It was a just a matter of time before McMurtry returned to Lonesome Dove territory and, having written about Calamity Jane, Billy the Kid and other such epic characters, turned to perhaps the most famous of all, Wyatt Earp and company. His newest oater brings Dove background character Charles Goodnight to the fore. Hard-living but oddly retiring, he and his dusty-chapped cowpokes are in their element in the country into which Earp and Doc Holliday have newly ridden, embarking on a cowcentric career that, by book's end, will take them to destiny in Tombstone, where the inhabitants endure the job of trying to "meet the tower of dust created by nine hundred cattle as they passed through a town that was dusty anyway." McMurtry's tale is short, but he packs a terrific lot of action into his pages; in between gunfights and extractions, the constant bantering between Earp and Holliday echoes that of Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call ("Irascible, clean out your damn ears"). A nicely turned running joke has Holliday and Earp never quite certain of just where they are; as Wyatt says, "[t]his is Long Grass, which is nearly in Kansas, but not quite. It's nearly in New Mexico, too, but not quite. Some have even suggested that we might be in Texas." If they are, it's the Texas of McMurtry's imagination, a place full of tough outlaws and tougher Comanches and, refreshingly, a place where the women are just as strong as the men and just as involved in the story. A nice touch, too, is the subtle frame provided by an object that, like the clan that made it, staggered out of the High Plains and Tombstone into Hollywood, with plenty of dents and dings to show for it. Not quite in the class of Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show, or other top-shelf McMurtry, but still a lot of fun.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393351194
  • Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 6/1/2015
  • Pages: 224

Meet the Author

Larry McMurtry
Born and raised in Texas, Larry McMurtry is an award-winning novelist, essayist, Oscar-winning screenwriter, and avid book collector. His novels include The Last Picture Show, Terms of
Endearment, and Lonesome Dove. He lives in Archer City, Texas.


Back in the late 60s, the fact that Larry McMurtry was not a household name was really a thorn in the side of the writer. To illustrate his dissatisfaction with his status, he would go around wearing a T-shirt that read "Minor Regional Novelist." Well, more than thirty books, two Oscar-winning screenplays, and a Pulitzer Prize later, McMurtry is anything but a minor regional novelist.

Having worked on his father's Texas cattle ranch for a great deal of his early life, McMurtry had an inborn fascination with the West, both its fabled history and current state. However, he never saw himself as a life-long rancher and aspired to a more creative career. He achieved this at the age of 25 when he published his first novel. Horseman, Pass By was a wholly original take on the classic western. Humorous, heartbreaking, and utterly human, this story of a hedonistic cowboy in contemporary Texas was a huge hit for the young author and even spawned a major motion picture starring Paul Newman called Hud just two years after its 1961 publication. Extraordinarily, McMurtry was even allowed to write the script, a rare honor for such a novice.

With such an auspicious debut, it is hard to believe that McMurtry ever felt as though he'd been slighted by the public or marginalized as a minor talent. While all of his books may not have received equal attention, he did have a number of astounding successes early in his career. His third novel The Last Picture Show, a coming-of-age-in-the-southwest story, became a genuine classic, drawing comparisons to J. D. Salinger and James Jones. In 1971, Peter Bogdonovich's screen adaptation of the novel would score McMurtry his first Academy award for his screenplay. Three years later, he published Terms of Endearment, a critically lauded urban family drama that would become a hit movie starring Jack Nicholson and Shirley MacLaine in 1985.

That year, McMurtry published what many believe to be his definitive novel. An expansive epic sweeping through all the legends and characters that inhabited the old west, Lonesome Dove was a masterpiece. All of the elements that made McMurtry's writing so distinguished -- his skillful dialogue, richly drawn characters, and uncanny ability to establish a fully-realized setting -- convened in this Pulitzer winning story of two retired Texas rangers who venture from Texas to Montana. The novel was a tremendous critical and commercial favorite, and became a popular miniseries in 1989.

Following the massive success of Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry's prolificacy grew. He would publish at least one book nearly every year for the next twenty years, including Texasville, a gut-wrenching yet hilarious sequel to The Last Picture Show, Buffalo Girls, a fictionalized account of the later days of Calamity Jane, and several non-fiction titles, such as Crazy Horse.

Interestingly, McMurtry would receive his greatest notoriety in his late 60s as the co-screenwriter of Ang Lee's controversial film Brokeback Mountain. The movie would score the writer another Oscar and become one of the most critically heralded films of 2005. The following year he published his latest novel. Telegraph Days is a freewheeling comedic run-through of western folklore and surely one of McMurtry's most inventive stories and enjoyable reads. Not bad for a "minor regional novelist."

Good To Know

A miniseries based on McMurtry's novel Comanche Moon is currently in production. McMurtry co-wrote the script.

The first-printing of McMurtry's novel In a Narrow Grave is one of his most obscure for a rather obscure reason. The book was withdrawn because the word "skyscrapers" was misspelled as "skycrappers" on page 105.

McMurtry comes from a long line of farmers and ranchers. His father and eight of his uncles were all in the profession.

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    1. Hometown:
      Archer City, Texas
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 3, 1936
    2. Place of Birth:
      Wichita Falls, Texas
    1. Education:
      B.A., North Texas State University, 1958; M.A., Rice University, 1960. Also studied at Stanford University.

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