cover image Pretty Boy Floyd

Pretty Boy Floyd

Larry McMurtry. Simon & Schuster, $23.5 (444pp) ISBN 978-0-671-89165-7

As plain and affecting as a Woody Guthrie ballad, this re-creation of the crooked career of the Depression-era desperado/folk hero is Pulitzer Prize-winner McMurtry's (Lonesome Dove) first collaborative effort; he and screenwriter Ossana originally wrote this story as a filmscript. In 1925, after foolishly paying with (ill-gotten) cash for a brand-new Studebaker and driving home to visit his teenage wife and infant son, 21-year-old Oklahoma farm boy Charles Arthur Floyd is arrested and imprisoned for armed robbery. Released after four years, Floyd loses his new job because he's an ex-con. Arrested twice for vagrancy, he returns to the outlaw life and meets rodeo rider-turned-bandit George Birdwell when both he and Floyd strut in to rob the same bank at the same time. The outlaws embark on a reckless spree marked by small-town heists and artless women until Floyd-captured and convicted but escaped-kills a deputy and Birdwell is shot dead by a bookkeeper during a bank robbery. Heading north, Floyd eventually becomes the quarry of legendary G-man Melvin Purvis. Told in homely prose that's perfectly wedded to its subject, this engaging tragicomic novel is as much a study of quiet desperation as of crime and punishment. 275,000 first printing; Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternates; author tour. (Sept.)