The Lonesome Gods is the first full-length book I’ve read from Louis L’Amour. His short stories are thrilling and often heart-warming, so I expected a L’Amour novel to be the same, but more fully developed and thorough. I was not disappointed.
Johannes Verne is the hero of this story, a boy who comes west across America with his father, Zachary Verne. It is a dangerous journey, for they travel across a desert filled with hostile natives and bandits, in a lone wagon with strangers for companions. Zachary is ill and dying, but determined to get his son to Los Angeles.
The destination is just as dangerous, for it is to Don Isidro, Zachary’s father-in-law, that he hopes to transfer care of 5-year-old Johannes – a man who tried to kill Zachary for marrying his daughter, who pursued the couple into the desert and forced them to go into hiding, and who might still hold a grudge. Zachary knows that Don Isidro may wish his grandson dead as well, but he is the only family left to a boy who has already lost his mother and will soon lose his father as well.
Just as in his short stories, L’Amour has packed this novel with gunfights, chases on horseback, friendship and enmity with native peoples, and un-flowery romance. Without page limitation, there is an increase in the number of characters, as well as a more in-depth development of those central to the story. The length of the novel also allowed the author to span a great deal of years, so that the reader witnesses young Johannes growing from a child to a man, with the aid of loyal friends and some harrowing experiences.
Looking at the book from a technical perspective, there are some passages that are a touch unpolished, and the author has a slight tendency to repeat himself during certain scenes. The examples that come to mind are the few times when a character has a thought that he then repeats nearly verbatim to a companion. These instances don’t amount to much, and likely wouldn’t fill more than a page altogether, but it is sloppy and perhaps a bit distracting.
The only other criticism I have in terms of nuts-and-bolts writing technique is repetitious word usage. I tend to notice this in others’ writing because I am vigilant of it in my own. One of the first things I look for is how often and how recently I’ve used a particular word, and I try to use synonyms whenever possible. This was apparently not a concern for Mr. L’Amour or his editors, but it is a small complaint in the grand scheme of a very successful book.
What really counts in The Lonesome Gods is the story. L’Amour was such a marvelous storyteller, that anything else takes a distant second place in importance. The narrative has an ideal pace, keeping the reader involved on every page, emotionally invested and wide-eyed for much of the book.
There are scenes that are so enthralling, reality completely slips away. At one point, during a silent standoff that was sure to explode in gunfire at any moment (or any sentence, really), I found myself jumping at the sound of my husband scraping a chair leg on the floor. I was so fully inside the story that I startled as though one of the characters had made a sudden move.
Not many authors can write like that, can make you feel entirely present in the story in that way. The text fades away, and all you see is action, as though the page in front of you were a movie screen. The alertness of the narrator becomes your own alertness, his fear your fear. It is quite an accomplishment. Louis L’Amour was a true entertainer of the highest degree.
The Lonesome Gods is such a beautiful melding of history, culture, and adventure, that it should be recommended reading in American public schools. It is a fascinating portrait of the formative years of the United States’s western cities, a purely great story about a very admirable young man, and it is chock full of moral fiber and freedom-loving sentiment.
If I had read this book in my high school English classes, I would have taken much more interest in American history, but at least I have read it now. I am so pleased to have my own copy of it, and would recommend it to absolutely anyone, without reservation.