Somebody's Darling

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

There is a certain truth offered in fragmentation that is not available in the whole; and yet even in this ability to pull back and leisurely examine a part at a time there is the inherent falsehood that the parts seem to exist on their own, in their own time, detached from and oblivious to the whole. Such seems to be the case with Larry McMurtry’s newest novel—and such seems to be McMurtry’s case as well. Somebody’s Darling structurally offers us this fragmentation in three sections, each called a “book,” suggesting that this is really three books in one. The fragmentation concept is carried further by having a different narrator for each book, although each narrator also appears in the other books. This fragmentation allows the reader to examine each character singly, all together, and from more than one point-of-view. The very title of the novel suggests the ambiguity and fragmentation that McMurtry’s characters face, consider, dissect, and finally move away from. It is this ambiguity which merges with the characters’ uncertainties and provides the novel’s focus.

On the most superficial level, McMurtry depicts the Hollywood of fact, rather than that of fiction. The plot follows Jill Peel, who is about to become Hollywood’s most successful new woman director, as she lives through the first few years of her success. We see her in action in Hollywood and New York. We see her interaction with the film world in New York as she receives an award for her first film, catapulting her to the top rank of women directors. We see her in Hollywood and on Hollywood locations, directing her first film with a major actress in it; and we see her as she goes about living, attempting to come to terms with herself, her existence, and her love.

McMurtry, however, is far more concerned with character and theme than with simple plot. He insists that rather than examine life in Hollywood, we examine the fact of life versus its fictions. The fictions of life are readily seen in the Hollywood setting of the novel. What better symbol of fictions is there than the American “dream factory,” that town of “tinsel,” where farm girls just off buses from America’s heartlands are discovered sitting on drug store stools and go on to become America’s newest sex symbols and heartthrobs? Where better to set this novel that seeks truth among falsehood, fact among fictions, honesty among sham?

In order to examine more fully the relationship of fact to fiction and, on a more human level, the relationship of men to women and individuals to themselves, McMurtry offers us only three major characters, two of whom have no more than five pages of interaction in the novel. McMurtry’s emphasis on and delineation of character recalls the work of his earlier novels: Horseman, Pass By; Leaving Cheyenne; The Last Picture Show; Moving On; All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers, and Terms of Endearment.

The first section of the novel is narrated by Joe Percy, an aging screenwriter seeking meaning from and a reaffirmation of life. Unable to completely recover emotionally from his wife’s death, Joe falls into and out of harmless affairs with other men’s wives, women Joe sees as young, tawny California women and who Jill describes in denigrating fashion as “debutantes.” Joe, who describes himself as having been vastly inferior to his wife, the star of jungle serials and an accomplished athlete, seeks meaning from this activity. Having long ago given up on the idea of ever writing anything of real significance, Joe now labors on scripts for television shows with such titles as “Lineman” (a show based on the Glen Campbell song about a Midwestern power lineman that in one episode has Joe contemplating how best to introduce drama and pathos into a story about a bear cub up a light pole). Joe considers himself without pretensions or fictions, a man who stands forth exactly as he is.

In this first section, we are shown a fairly good picture of Joe, but we also see Jill through Joe’s eyes. We find out something about the mind of this woman who is on the ascendant in this world of fiction from this man who is on the way down into his own world of fiction. We view the relationship...

(The entire section is 1741 words.)

Somebody's Darling Bibliography

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

Booklist. LXXV, October 15, 1978, p. 354.

Kirkus Reviews. XLVI, September 1, 1978, p. 960.

Library Journal. CIII, October 15, 1978, p. 2134.

Publisher’s Weekly. CCXIV, September 18, 1978, p. 162.

Time. CXII, November 13, 1978, p. 123.