The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry

cvr9780684853864_9780684853864_hr The Last Picture Show

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.

 

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

IMG_8171 Lonesome Dove: A Novel

by Larry McMurtry

I first read this book probably 25 years ago, and for all these years it has stood out in my memory as the best book I’ve ever read.  Of course, over those years, I’ve read many, many other books – including many excellent books, and over time I’ve often wondered if Lonesome Dove would still hold up if I reread it.  Despite how much I remember loving it, I do have a hard time making myself reread books, as there are so many unread books yet to read!  Still, I finally dug out my old paperback copy and delved in.  I was not disappointed.

At 858 pages, it’s too big a story to offer any details – and I don’t think I could do it justice.  In a nutshell, it’s the story of Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae, two middle-aged former Texas Rangers, basically retired and living in a “little fart of a town” in post-Civil War south Texas, who impulsively decide to undertake a cattle drive up to the virgin pastures of Montana.  Filled with characters so vivid you could almost hear their voices and smell the dust and sweat of them, it is a sweeping, epic masterpiece story of the wild and unbroken frontier of the American West.

Yeah, it’s a western.  Filled with cowboys and Indians, outlaws and lawmen, heroes and villains, ladies and whores – and plenty of adventure and tragedy.  I was absolutely transported to a different time and place – so much so that I was often dreaming of cattle drives at night.  I was struck by how horrifically hard life was in those times – and yet, in some ways so much simpler than now.  People lived and died as they pleased – there was of course a code of honor, and propriety, but … much of the pettiness and materialism and anxiety over a million things that modern life has brought us was absent.

I cried almost ceaselessly through the last 75 pages or so, and it’s one of those rare books that just leaves me feeling like I’m not going to get over it anytime soon.

To be able to write like this … to imagine a story and put it to paper, a story that truly takes on a life of its own and evokes such emotion – what a gift.  What power!  I am awestruck.

I absolutely love this book, and it remains the best book I’ve ever read.