Do you guys remember LiveJournal? Well, I have some friends that post there and one of them recently hosted an event to celebrate beloved men in literature. I wrote this post and I kid you not it took me forever. I think I was a little stressed at the time but I also had to go back and reread all the parts of Lonesome Dove Roscoe was in plus I started over from scratch a few times. And then...no one read it, lol. So I thought I'd post it here where some of you have actually read the book and also this is still sort of a book blog so it fits in!
"The name Roscoe don't inspire confidence...people named Roscoe ought to stick to clerking."
This is not a post of epic love for some incredibly complex and intelligent character, or some perfect romantic hero (HA HA HA), but rather appreciation for the kind of character that disarms me so quickly by virtue of well, sort of being a lovable loser. Lonesome Dove is actually filled with literary lads that I love, but when I read the book, it was Roscoe's sections that made me laugh and that I rushed to get to most of all.
Before reading it (and well, even after) the title Lonesome Dove conjured up thoughts of dryness and sand. It's a Western. I hate Westerns, or so I was pretty sure I did anyway. (I've since realized I like some Westerns) The last thing I ever wanted to spend my time doing was reading about a bunch of cowboys for crying out loud. But people like Beth Fish Reads and Booking Mama convinced me it was a winner so I decided to give it a go in that readalong we had a few years back!
The book opens with this quote:
All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past„ but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.
T.K. Whipple, Study Out the Land
Once I read this I had to admit I was intrigued. Had I been wrong about Westerns? Were they really external manifestations of our inner savagery? Was this book going to change my life? I read the first 100 pages with eagerness.
I was bored. I mean there was some good humor, but there were a lot of cowboys. And barely any women. Those of you who know me know how I love my female characters!
But I kept on reading and got to Roscoe and those cowboys finally left Lonesome Dove and went on their drive and the book turned into a thriller.
Roscoe's situation is basically this: He's a deputy in a small town in Arkansas and basically does nothing but play dominoes and arrest the same elderly drunk man over and over. But when a shoot-out happens in their town, everything changes. The townspeople want vengeance for the death of one of their own and so they send their sheriff, July Johnson, to hunt him down. July is married to a woman who doesn't particularly love him, and when he leaves...well she leaves, too. When his family discovers this, they send Roscoe after July to let him know his wife has run off on a whiskey boat. Roscoe is very reluctant, but since he's the deputy, he goes. The rest of the book details his adventures which are often humorous because of how inept he is.
Here are the reasons I love Roscoe:
All he wants is to be allowed to continue his pitiful existence, and not be bothered. He's certainly not meant for a life on the savage road. It's sort of shameful how he's coerced into going, but he does it.
Sure he doesn't really want to go after July and tell him that Elmira left. But he does it and even though he's grumbling along in his mind for quite a bit of the time, he really feels it's something that has to be done. So basically he does the thing he doesn't want to do and is ill-equipped to do because he thinks it's the right thing for his friend.
Roscoe mostly encounters smart women and savage men on the road. The smart women quickly assess that this man is no threat. He is, after all, a 48 year old bachelor who'd rather be playing dominoes and is out on the road mostly because a woman sent him there, lol. When he meets Louisa, a farmer, she knows she has a catch and quickly proposes marriage. At first Roscoe is dead honest and tells her he doesn't want to get married. But he reconsiders and asks if she'd reconsider once he's found July. Of course Louisa lets him know she may have found a better prospect by then!
He also stays at a man's house who has a girl kept in captivity. While Roscoe recognizes the situation is wrong, he doesn't really do anything to help it out. (he's not a hero). The girl, Janey, escapes and follows him. She helps him by finding food and guiding them since Roscoe really has no idea what he's doing. But I think it's really notable that after she's been so horribly treated by men, she has no problem joining Roscoe. Of course he's not too bright, but he's also naturally gentle and non-aggressive and I think those things make Janey feel like he can be trusted. Unfortuately, they are not good survival qualities.
He's a total disaster on the road:
As far as Roscoe was concerned, travel started bad and got worse. For one thing, it seemed he would never find Texas, a fact that preyed on his mind. From all indications it was a large place, and if he missed it he would be laughed out of Fort Smith--assuming he ever got back.
"Roscoe yanked out his pistol and shot at the boar until the pistol was empty, but he missed every time and when he tried to reload, racing through the trees with a lot of pigs after him, he just dropped his bullets. He had a rifle but was afraid to get it out for fear he'd drop that, too."
"Roscoe was half asleep when a bad thing happened. Memphis brushed against a tree limb that had a wasp's nest on it. The nest broke loose from the limb and fell right in Roscoe's lap. It soon rolled off the saddle, but not before twenty or thirty wasps buzzed up. When Roscoe awoke, all he could see was wasps. He was stung twice on the neck, twice on the face, and more on the hand as he was battling them.
It was a rude awakening. He put Memphis into a lope and soon outran the wasps, but two had got down his shirt, and these stung him several more times before he could crush them to death against his body."
I think Roscoe's inclusion in Lonesome Dove is partly for comic relief, but it's also a reminder of just how truly brutal life was. (spoiler alert) He, like so many characters in the book, does not get a happy ending.