cover image Buffalo Girls

Buffalo Girls

Larry McMurtry. Simon & Schuster, $19.45 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-68518-8

McMurtry's ( Anything for Billy ) meandering, gentle-humored threnody for the passing of the old Wild West, assembles an eclectic crew of aging friends, both fictional and historic. In the late 1800s, ex-beavermen Jim Ragg and Bartle Bone ramble over the prairie, sleep in ghost towns and lament the days when ``beaver still splashed in the cool streams of the west.'' With them travels Indian scout No Ears, whose acute senses are keyed to the animal and spirit worlds. In Miles City, Mont., softhearted Dora runs her fancy bordello, bewailing her lost cowboy T. Blue, who married a half-Indian bride but who still yearns for and visits the lovelorn madam. Dora finally weds young giant Ogden, gets pregnant and buys Miner's Rest, a proper hotel, signaling that the ``era of the buffalo girls'' is also over. Interspersed throughout the narrative are sharpshooter Calamity Jane's brooding letters to her daughter, Janey, whose father was Wild Bill Hickok. A trip to England with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show fails to cheer the gang, and they return home to sink into melancholy and death. McMurtry's genius with language always enchants, but this tale's charm is muffled by sadness. Literary Guild featured alternate. (Oct.)