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While trolling through Costco the other day I snagged Larry McMurtry’s latest book, Custer. (If I owned a traditional book store and a Costco opened within 100 miles of my store, I would throw up my hands in despair. How can anyone compete with those prices?)

Back to Custer. This is a peculiar book. I can’t say I’ve read his other stuff even though it must be good because Pulitzer Prizes aren’t that easy to come by and some really good movies (Terms of Endearment, The Last Picture Show) and a great TV series (Lonesome Dove) have been based on his writing. So it came as something of a surprise to discover that this book reads like it was scrawled on a few napkins while McMurtry put away a 24-oz. steak and four or five glasses of wine at his favorite restaurant.

The double-spaced text and liberal use of blank space remind me of some fifth grade kid who uses a lot of filler to meet his teacher’s “three-page report” requirement. Words like “sloppy,” “haphazard,” “off-the-cuff” come to mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if the text for this book is a literal transcription of a voice recording that was made of a late-night conversation McMurtry had with someone. It is astoundingly repetitive. On several occasions I flipped back to verify that I wasn’t re-reading pages (I wasn’t).

That said, it’s not a bad book. McMurtry makes a lot of eye-opening observations (like the fact that Chief Joseph’s Nez Perce on their famous flight to Canada “[killed] most everyone who strayed into [their] path”) and I suppose it is better to err on the side of informality than ponderous formality. All in all I would say the book is an interesting read. If I could have a do-over it would be to read the book while standing at the book stacks in Costco instead of shelling out $19.99 for the one-hour read this book provides.

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