Thursday, December 19, 2013


Horseman, Pass By, Larry McMurtry, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1961, 179 pp

I've read Larry McMurtry over the years, mostly the famous ones, and have always liked his romantic cowboys and quirky females. Horseman, Pass By was his first published novel. Two years later it was adapted into the movie Hud starring Paul Newman. I remember that movie but it changed the book in a couple radical ways.

Horseman, Pass By, at 179 pages, is just barely a novel. Lonnie Bannon, raised by his grandfather on a West Texas cattle ranch, is coming of age. Hud is his stepbrother, son of the grandfather's second wife. In the novel he is a somewhat background character, someone whom Lonnie watches, just as he watches everyone else-his grandfather, the ranch hands, his buddies in town and Halmea, the black housekeeper/cook. Halmea fuels Lonnie's sexual fantasies while also being a mother substitute. (In the movie, this character is white and has a different name.) 

It's a great little book with a stoic old rancher, a disastrous cattle disease, and Hud's attempts to inherit the ranch. Seen through the eyes of a teenage boy who idolizes his grandfather but has been left to figure out life pretty much on his own, the story throbs with Texas-style adolescent angst.

I was prepared for a throw away first novel. Instead I got a little masterpiece containing all of McMurtry's virtues as a writer without the sentimental excesses he got into later. I am going to watch Hud again but I bet I'll end up liking the book more than the movie.

(Horseman, Pass By is available in paperback and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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