Marie Antoinette Courtright, known to one and all as Nellie, is the quintessential Larry McMurtry heroine smart, sassy, sexy and as quick to put down a man as she is to lift up her skirts. She's the star of McMurtry's latest, Telegraph Days, narrated with a vibrant pluckiness equal to Nellie's by the fabulous Annie Potts. The last remaining Courtrights (the rest of this Virginia plantation family died on their way West), Nellie and her younger brother settle in Rita Blanca where she becomes the telegraph lady. But that's only for starters in this romp across the American frontier when it was chock-a-block with cavorting cowboys, grimy gunslingers and outrageous outlaws. Fictional folk mix here with Buffalo Bill (a major player in Nellie's life), Wyatt Earp, Jesse James and even Lillian Gish, who has a cameo at the end of Nellie's long, admirable career and McMurtry's exuberant Western epic.

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