Why? You will love his characters because they react believably to high suspense.
How do you go from a story about a small town in Texas (The Last Picture Show) to the sprawling epic of Lonesome Dove? Because McMurtry sells his characters. He puts you in their heads on cattle drives or playing pool in the local tavern.
When McMurtry was young, he stayed at his grandfather’s ranch. There were no books. But every night the family sat on the porch and told stories.
Some novelists emphasis plot. In this, James Patterson is the king. I don’t like his books. Now tastes differ. But McMurtry has just as much plot but all of it is filtered through the viewpoint of his characters. And they are unforgettable, from his teenagers in Last Picture Show, to Gus and Captain Call in Lonesome Dove, to Aurora, the vain mother and reluctant grandmother, in Terms of Endearment.
In the last great adventure of his life, former Texas Ranger Woodrow Call drives a herd of cattle from the Mexican boarder up to Montana. (He stole the cattle from Mexico, by the way.) On the journey he turns a troop of boys into men. Braving the brutal Montana winter, Woodrow prefers to sleep outside in a pup tent and sleeping bag instead of the bunk room with the others because, as he considers, he enjoys his own company. Quiet and reserved Woodrow’s partner is lazy, talkative Gus who is good for nothing until there’s a fight. They ride the plains together. Gus lectures Woodrow on life and love and having a good laugh once in a while. Once you meet these men you will never forget them.
McMurtry doesn’t just make things happen. He makes them happen to real people.
The Last Picture Show is my favorite. One of the traps for a writer is a love scene. Sex is repetitious. Many writers just hint at it and move on. Not McMurtry. He spends two chapters on the love life of the eighteen year old protagonist and the fortyish matron. Every sentence, every paragraph, moves the characters forward through a journey of emotion. Some small thing happens and it affects the character in a certain way. That character reacts, and the other is affected by that. Forty pages, it’s amazing, he holds your interest in a vise.