Larry McMurtry Long Fiction Analysis
Larry McMurtry’s best fiction has used the American Southwest as its location and the characters typical of that area for its subjects. In the early years of his career, McMurtry dealt with life in the dying towns and decaying ranches of North and West Texas, often using as characters boys on the brink of manhood to provide perspective on a way of life that had reached a stage of corruption and betrayal. His trilogy that followed these early novels deals with the tangled relationships among somewhat older characters and reflects McMurtry’s own move from Archer City to Houston. Later, he invested the Western novel with new vigor through two works, his classic Lonesome Dove and the satiric Anything for Billy, which holds the legend of Billy the Kid up to ridicule.
McMurtry has demonstrated the ability to change his locales and his subject matter when he feels the need for novelty, and he has been willing to revive characters from earlier novels to suit new purposes. He has been most successful in exploring the past and present of his native Texas, a state and a state of mind that provide seemingly inexhaustible material for his special blend of satire, romance, and tragedy.
McMurtry has used a variety of styles, from the elegiac to the rapid narrative, from the hilarious to the mournful. He has shown an unusual facility in depicting interesting and sometimes outrageous characters, especially women. While his fictional locales moved away from Texas for a time, in his later works he has returned to the settings and sometimes the characters of his earlier works. A regional writer, he has transcended the usual limitations of regional writers and attracted a broad audience.
McMurtry himself eventually said that Horseman, Pass By, written when he was in his early twenties, is an immature work. This first novel, a story of ranch life, narrated by a seventeen-year-old boy whose grandfather’s livelihood and life are ended when his herd of cattle must be destroyed, sets many of McMurtry’s themes: the ease with which people learn to betray others, in this case the old man’s betrayal by Hud, his stepson; the mental and physical wear inflicted by the harsh Texas land; and the importance of the affection an older woman (in this case the Bannon family’s black cook, Halmea) can give to a young man. This novel and McMurtry’s next, Leaving Cheyenne, are clearly preparations for the success of The Last Picture Show.
The Last Picture Show
McMurtry’s third novel is set in the early 1950’s in the small, dying North Texas town of Thalia (there is a town with that name in Texas, but its geography does not fit the fictional town, which is clearly modeled on Archer City). Its central characters are Sonny Crawford and Duane Moore, two boys in their last year of high school. Neither is in fact an orphan, but neither lives with his surviving parent; both rent rooms in the town’s rooming house, support themselves working in the oil fields, and hang out at the town’s pool hall, run by their aging friend and mentor Sam the Lion. In the course of about six months, Duane and Sonny learn hard lessons about life and love.
Sonny is the more sensitive of the two. He falls into a passionate affair with Ruth Popper, the frustrated and lonely wife of the high school athletic coach—a stock figure whose homosexuality is masked by an aggressive masculinity in the presence of his athletes. Ruth begins the affair in desperation and is startled by the depth of her feeling for Sonny, while the boy is surprised and gratified by the experience. Both realize that the affair cannot last, but Ruth is devastated when Sonny leaves her at the invitation of the town’s reigning beauty, Jacy Farrow.
Jacy has been Duane’s girlfriend, a monster of selfishness who plays games with both Sonny and Duane, almost destroying their friendship. She keeps putting off Duane’s demands that she marry him and insists on seeing another young man and going with him to wild...
(The entire section is 5,987 words.)