McMurtry returns to the Old West he knows so well and loves so deeply for this first in a series.
On an otherwise ordinary day in 1866, Mary Margaret Cecil’s steel-trap mind clangs shut. Time to leave Boone’s Lick, Missouri, and trek west to Wyoming, she suddenly announces to that passel of folk who are completely dependent on her—for their physical well being, for their values, and, yes, for ongoing entertainment. Her brood is composed of three teenagers and a toddler, but that by no means completes the universe. There’s also rickety-rackety Granpa Crackenthorpe; Rosie, the sweet-natured whore, her half sister, and the ever resourceful Uncle Seth, Mary Margaret’s faithful swain, who also happens to be her brother-in-law. And once the buckboards are westward bound, there are two more notable additions: Charley Seven Days, the enigmatic Shoshone on a knightly mission, and Père Villy, a Friar Tuck of a priest, heading for Siberia, where he’s decided he’s needed. The why of the Cecil clan’s migration? The object is to track down Dick Cecil, that wandering wagoner, Mary Margaret’s husband, who hasn’t been seen in Boone’s Lick parts for upwards of 14 months. But then what? That’s what Shay Cecil, the story’s first-person narrator, would like to know. As for that, Ma keeps her own counsel. There will be Indian fights, brushes with bears, an almost disaster at a river crossing, surprise meetings, painful departures, dozens of near-death experiences until, finally, the trail ends at Wyoming’s far-flung Fort Phil Kearney. There, Dick Cecil’s family encounters . . . Dick Cecil’s family, and the irascible, indomitable Mary Margaret does what she’s traveled those hundreds of miles to do.
Reminds warmly of Lonesome Dove and others in the McMurtry canon (Comanche Moon, 1997, etc.): colorful, poignant, funny.