It's so nice to see some high-profile Western projects popping up.
The first was SIN KILLER, which marked the beginning of Larry
McMurtry's four volumes of The Berrybender Narratives. The second
was the announced republishing of the works of Louis L'Amour,
commencing with a number of short story collections and continuing
with the recent publication of a new edition of the immortal HONDO.
And the third is the television series "Deadwood," which, in spite
of its occasionally gratuitous use of crude, earthy language, may
well be the best-written show currently on television. Things now
come full circle with the publication of FOLLY AND GLORY, the
fourth and final (at least for now) volume of The Berrybender
Narratives. It is a pleasure to find that it sustains, and even
surpasses, the energy of its predecessors.
The Berrybender Narratives are not something you can jump into.
While McMurtry is incapable of writing badly, this series is best
read from the beginning, as it is most definitely a sequential
narrative. FOLLY AND GLORY begins with the Berrybenders under a
forced yet luxurious house arrest in Santa Fe, Mexico. The mood of
the party, particularly Tasmin Berrybender's, is somewhat subdued
due to the murder of Pomp Charbonneau at the hands of a deranged
Mexican Army captain. The party as a whole, however, passes the
time in relative comfort. Their somewhat idyllic incarceration is
abruptly ended, though, when it is learned that the Mexican
authorities plan to arrest them --- for real this time --- and, in
all probability, execute the entire party. Lord Berrybender plans
to proceed to Texas, and the party effects a hurried exit out of
the compound. Danger and death await at every turn, not only from
pestilence but also from a party of slavers.
Meanwhile, Jim Snow has as his wont been absent more than present,
guiding a wagon train and procuring a weapons shipment for the
always overbearing and self-centered Lord Berrybender. When an
attack by the slavers results in the death of two members of the
party, Jim Snow becomes The Sin Killer once again, exacting a dark
and terrible but fitting vengeance upon the slavers. Snow's action
also indirectly results in a complication that will affect his wife
Tasmin and the rest of the company, forcing Tasmin to make a
decision regarding her future and that of her offspring.
FOLLY AND GLORY may well be the best of The Berrybender Narratives.
McMurtry is perfect here, capturing the feeling of danger and
casual brutality that was part of the everyday existence of the
frontiersmen in the mid-19th century. FOLLY AND GLORY also neatly
weaves its way through one of the major historical events of the
period, while a number of real-life figures make brief but
important cameo appearances. FOLLY AND GLORY is, ultimately, the
capstone of what may well be McMurtry's penultimate work in a
career that has been marked by creative summits.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011