Larry McMurtry has written so vividly and prolifically about the opening of the American West, he has become as legendary as his fictional heroes and heroines. With 23 novels, three essay collections and more than 30 screenplays in his literary "holster, including the Pulitzer Prize- winning Lonesome Dove, when McMurtry rides into town brandishing a new manuscript, hordes of readers gather 'round, eager for the latest tale. He has delivered again with Boone's Lick, an engaging story set in the 1800s. It is the account of a determined woman's trek from Boone's Lick, Missouri, to Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming to find her wayward husband and speak her mind. Ma, or Mary Margaret, is a dauntless character who gathers her family around her for this journey and their "joshing, bickering and fussing, their many shared adventures and the immutable bond that keeps them together makes this a very accessible family saga. You needn't be a Western fan or knowledgeable about the American frontier to delight in this breezy, fast-paced yarn, but McMurtry's expert portrayal of the dangers and deprivations his trekkers experience makes the era come alive.

The story takes place roughly a year after the Civil War has ended, a volatile and dangerous time on the Great Plains. Indian relations are tense; gold fever has moved its locus from Nevada and California to Montana and Wyoming; and thousands of homesteaders in their overburdened wagons are making their way along the Oregon Trail.

Into this menacing land McMurtry sends his band of stalwart trekkers: along with Mary Margaret go her teenage sons, Shay and G. T.; a swift-footed, independent minded daughter, Neva; and a baby girl, Marcy. She is also accompanied by her brother-in-law, Seth (who becomes the man in her life after she "quits her husband), her half-sister, Rosie, and the cantankerous Granpa Crackenthorpe. Despite their numerous misadventures, and confrontations with Indians and outlaws, the troupe makes it to Fort Phil Kearny where the climax unfolds on the eve of the Fetterman Massacre a real historical event providing a sweeping stage for the Cecil family's personal drama.

Whether you're a cowpoke or a cosmopolitan, the likeable characters in Boone's Lick will beckon you to hitch your wagon and come along. McMurtry rides again.

Linda Stankard writes from her home in Cookeville, Tennessee.

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