by Larry McMurtry
Being that I remain in complete awe of Lonesome Dove, I wanted to give something else written by McMurtry a shot. There are authors that consistently dazzle me (Kent Haruf and Jeanine Cummins comes to mind) and others who are more hit or miss (such as Sarah Waters), and I was curious if I would be just as impressed with something else written by McMurtry.
The Last Picture Show, originally published in 1966 (nearly twenty years before Lonesome Dove), is a coming of age story set in a small, dusty one-stoplight town in Texas in the 1950s. The story centers around high school seniors and best friends Sonny and Duane, and Jacy, the prettiest (and most self-absorbed and manipulative) girl in town, and also daughter of the richest family in the area. Sonny and Duane live in a rooming house in town, which gives them an independence not quite enjoyed by the schoolmates who live at home with their parents. The town’s poolhall, picture show (movie theater), and cafe are the heart of the town’s social existence.
As their senior year of high school winds down, these three stumble towards adulthood and an unknown future, grappling with overpowering emotions and desires. A cast of colorful supporting characters, vivid in their flaws and strengths, lends the story texture and authenticity.
As I read, I honestly couldn’t decide if I liked the book or not. There’s some strange and disturbing shit in the story: the gang-raping of a blind cow, along with several paragraphs describing matter-of-factly how small town farm boys regularly copulate with whatever animals are available; pedophilia; and a scene in which Sonny has sex with a pregnant prostitute in Mexico. Everyone seems to have sex with the most unlikely partners in this story; there are several hookups between middle-aged adults and high school kids.
Still, the story managed to get under my skin. McMurtry’s writing is wonderful. He captures certain elusive emotions … that lonely desolate feeling of time slipping away forever, of feeling erased … It’s no Lonesome Dove, but I cried at the end, and days later am still thinking about the story.
I would sum this one up as weird and wonderful.