McMurtry delivers more laughs and a lot more sex than usual as he chronicles the transition from the waning days of the Old West gunfighters through the rise of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.
It’s hard to imagine how a novel beginning with a father’s suicide by hanging, leaving the narrator and her brother as orphans, should quickly turn into a comic romp. It does so through the eyes, voice and gallows humor of Marie Antoinette Courtright, known as Nellie, the latest in the prolific McMurtry’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of feisty frontier damsels. Few men can resist Nellie’s saucy charm, and fewer still are worthy of her, though she’s willing to settle for less whenever the frequent desire for copulation strikes her. And she’s not all that particular as to where it strikes, taking her sexual pleasure in a jail cell, a hayloft, whatever’s convenient. Almost every man who meets Nellie either courts her or proposes to her, thus giving McMurtry (The Colonel and Little Missie, 2005) plenty of chances to namedrop the likes of “Georgie” Custer, “Billy” Hickok and the irascible brothers Earp. Her allure also sets in motion the minimal plot, as she convinces a smalltown sheriff, one of her many fiancés, to hire her teenage brother, Jackson, as his deputy. When Jackson single-handedly guns down a gang of outlaws, the episode attracts plenty of notice to this frontier outpost, and Nellie’s account of her brother’s exploits gives her quick success as a writer (thus allowing McMurtry the opportunity for droll commentary on the author’s lot and the mixture of fact and fiction that popularly defines the Old West). It also brings her to the attention of Buffalo Bill Cody, whom she comes to adore above all others, but who is the one man who can resist her charms (not that he’s oblivious to them).
Though the novel ultimately covers a lot of territory, this isn’t a return to the Oscar-winner’s epic sweep of Lonesome Dove, but it’s an easy, breezy read.