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Leaving Cheyenne

I recently finished reading  Leaving Cheyenne by Larry McMurtry. It is his second novel and one of his lesser known works. It should be better known than it is. Set in the small Texas town of Thalia, it's a story of love triangle, told over a period of 40 years. It's told with great economy;my Contemporary American Fiction version is only 253 pages long, but it's as complete and satisfying as the 2-pound tomes stories like this usually generate.

The three principals in the triangle are Gideon Fry, Johnny McCloud, and Molly Taylor. Gideon is the very serious minded son of a rancher (and in his later years, a rancher himself). Johnny is a cowboy, with little ambition to be anything more than a cowboy. Molly is the object of their affections.

The structure of the book is interesting. It is divided into three sections, and each section is narrated by a different character. Respectively the first, second, and third sections are narrated by Gideon, Molly and Johnny. This allows us to get a good idea of what is going on inside each character, as well as  how they see each other. This structure allows the reader to learn a lot about each character in a relatively small number of pages and accounts for the economy I talked about in the first paragraph.

But I'm sounding like an accountant here. In addition to an interesting structure, Leaving Cheyenne contains some damn good writing. In the first section, Gideon describes an evening with Molly in some of the most beautifully erotic prose I've read in a long time:

"We salted the popcorn and buttered it and ate it, and when Molly kissed me after that she tasted like warm butter and salt."

Then there is this gem of wisdom Gideon gets from his father when he is a young man:

"A woman's love is like the morning dew. It's just as apt to fall on a horse turd as it is on a rose".

There is this wistful description of Molly as an older woman, given by Johnny:

"Molly had on her sunbonnet and her blue milking overalls, and an old pair of men's overshoes that had belonged to me at one time, so she didn't exactly look like Lily Langtry. But she would be a good looking woman when she died; she always kept enough of her looks to make me remember how much she had when she had them all."

Leaving Cheyenne is a beautifully written, emotionally moving book. Read it.