Telegraph Days

Written by Larry McMurtry
Review by Val Perry

From Pulitzer- and Oscar-winning writer Larry McMurtry comes his latest picaresque about life on the American frontier. Our heroine is Nellie Courtwright, a blunt-talking, no-nonsense, “organized” girl who brings the same hardheaded reasoning to both business and pleasure, as quick with a pen as she is with her tongue. After burying their father (who has hanged himself), she and her brother Jackson arrive at the quintessential Western town of Rita Blanca to seek their fortunes. Fortune quickly bears down on them in the form of the Yazees, a band of desperados with a penchant for collecting the ears of their victims. Jackson’s heroic action saves the town and becomes the stuff of legend—a legend which his sister Nellie is quick to capitalize on. Her adventures lead her from state to state, and into contact with just about every iconic figure of the American west (Buffalo Bill Cody, General George Custer, Wyatt Earp and his brothers, and the list goes on). At times Nellie’s timing stretches credibility (such as when she arrives in Tombstone, Arizona just in time to witness the gunfight at the O.K. Corral), as does her flatly emotionless reaction to everything from death to fortune to “copulation,” which she pursues with gusto. But Nellie isn’t meant to be a realistic heroine—her experiences and personality, like those of the famous characters she encounters, are larger than life. While this book doesn’t have what you might call a plot, Nellie’s wanderings and desires make for an entertaining read, and mirror the development of the West itself.