Larry McMurtry McMurtry, Larry (Vol. 2) - Essay

McMurtry, Larry (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

McMurtry, Larry 1936–

American novelist, author of The Last Picture Show. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

First, the virtues [of "Moving On"]. Mr. McMurtry has a good ear: These people talk the way people actually talk in Houston, at rodeos, in Hollywood. Mr. McMurtry also has a marvelous eye for locale: The Southwest is superbly evoked. It is a pleasure to read about Rice University instead of Harvard, as it is a pleasure to escape claustrophobic novels that rely on the excitation of the verbal glands instead of the exploration of social reality. The portrait of the California sun-bunny, Clara, reminds me of why I left that state. And the dominant ideas in "Moving On" are workable….

But McMurtry simply doesn't know how to turn off his electric typewriter. Almost as though acknowledging the inability of Patsy, et al., to sustain so long a book, he shores it up with detail. He is, for instance, very big on weather…. And no one in "Moving On" can drive off in a car without McMurtry noting how fast they go, where they sit, what the gas stations look like, and the contents of the glove compartment….

The good ear and marvelous eye conspire at something more like journalism than literature. The promiscuity of incident is fatiguing. "Moving On" reminds me of the later novels of John O'Hara; it's a little like turning on the radio, and leaving it on for years. It seems not to matter very much when you turn it off … after 300 or 500 or 794 or 1,600 pages. The voices will drone on, the turpitudes proliferate, whether or not you listen.

John Leonard, in The New York Times (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 10, 1970.

"Moving On," the latest novel by Larry McMurtry, who attracted attention with "Horseman, Pass By" (filmed as "Hud") and "Leaving Cheyenne," is an exhausting work—nearly 800 pages long—filled with characters and encounters. One has a right to expect big meanings from such big reading, but power of insight is not McMurtry's forte here. His forte is words, words, words. And sex, sex, sex. The marriage of Patsy and Jim Carpenter is so bad—and their separation and extramarital affairs so unsuccessful—that the effect of the novel can only be to threaten that a dark emotional chasm awaits those who try for more than life has dealt them….

McMurtry is a writer very serious about his work. He wants to tell us something important. He wears himself out trying to do it, finally giving up on Patsy, Jim, and their messy lives. More of the trouble lies in his set of skills. He is a narrator, a story teller, a populator of fiction. Rather than psychological investigation, his resolution of the conflict between his two principal characters is to introduce more events, more people, more of what he can do.

It won't work. The crisis in the lives of Patsy and Jim Carpenter is not other people and other places. The crisis is caused by unresolved conflicts within their own personalities—conflicts brought to their marriage, which the author cannot identify. To this extent "Moving On" offers negative reward. If one senses what McMurtry has missed, all the words and lovelessness may come home. There's a message here, but not the one he wanted to send.

Webster Schott, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 26, 1970.

When I finished Larry McMurtry's last novel, "Moving On," which was an exhaustingly long fiction centered on the rodeo world, I was very much put off by a peculiar laxness in the writing…. Then as several months passed I discovered—as with McMurtry's previous work, especially "The Last Picture Show"—that I could remember at will nearly every incident in the novel, that the whole book was disturbingly back there in my brain with the rest of my sainted fictional heroes whether I wanted it to be or not, that like it or not McMurtry was incapable of even remotely indifferent fiction.

"All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers" is a much more powerful demonstration of this "memorable" aspect in McMurtry's work, a quality that is central in terms of esthetics to any good novel. It is simply the viable cornpone that good art sticks and draws us back to life while the bad is easily forgotten. But the new novel is a shorter, more violently energetic book than "Moving On." It is a desperate and intimidating work and you are liable to finish it with relief and then pick it up several days later to see if the man really said what he did….

It is difficult to characterize a talent as outsized as McMurtry's. Often his work seems disproportionately sensual and violent, but these qualities in "All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers" are tempered by his comic genius, his ability to render a sense of landscape and place, and an interior intellectual tension that resembles in intensity that of Saul Bellow's "Mr. Sammler's Planet." McMurtry will flash back and forth between the splendidly brilliant and the sloppily inane but has a sense of construction and proper velocity that always saves him. McMurtry has the faults of a strong but careless writer like Mailer, but they are easily forgiven in this particular novel, which seems so thoroughly a type of "American" classic without any of the painless charm of housebroken literature.

Jim Harrison, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 19, 1972, pp. 5, 26.