Larry McMurtry McMurtry, Larry (Vol. 3) - Essay

McMurtry, Larry (Vol. 3)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

McMurtry, Larry 1936–

McMurtry is an American novelist whose Horsemen Pass By was made into the movie "Hud." He is also author of The Last Picture Show. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Unlike the panting ladies-magazine prose of Moving On (particularly the sex scenes), the language here [in All My Friends are Going to be Strangers] is crisp, lean and forceful. The best of it is visually suggestive, without the flat, prosy lapses of The Last Picture Show. McMurtry's unerring eye for pictorial detail captures brief, gem-like flashes of contemporary life. Perhaps that is why the moving automobile plays such an important part in his work; dramatic possibilities always lurk in his passing landscapes.

There are flaws in the novel: although thoroughly engaging, Danny is too strung out from the beginning to offer much resistance to circumstance; his end is foretold in his beginning. There is no dramatic center; like Danny's life which is "no life," the plot is no plot, "just a long confused drive." However vivid and exciting are the bizarre characters, the "normal" people seem lifeless. The novel as a whole lacks the intellectual resonance of its Saul Bellow counterpart, Augie March, and there is little suggestion of Mr. Sammler's complex inner life in any of McMurtry's characters. Although he catches just about the whole contemporary scene McMurtry doesn't seem to know what to do with his discoveries. The ending works because he writes so well, but it is somewhat artificial; superimposing nineteenth-century heroic individualism on a played-out twentieth-century anti-hero is forcing absurdity.

But enough. This is a novel of high comedy, rich pathos and what is rare, genuine charm. Now that Mr. McMurtry has given us the last picture show and what should be the last on-the-road novel, I am eagerly waiting to see how this immensely talented writer will move on.

Ruth Prigozy, in Commonweal (reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), October 20, 1972, pp. 70-1.

Larry McMurtry is best known for having written The Last Picture Show; The Last Picture Show is best known for its fetching and very effective nostalgia: a commodity not in short supply in All My Friends [are Going to be Strangers], though it is used, here, more as a means to characterization than as a form of muted sociology. Nostalgia is less, of course, about bygone times than people and places lost, and they don't have to be buried under the detritus of several decades in order to be missed, or to become a part of that strange myth, The Past….

The constant and complicated homesickness and a nearfatal impetuosity conflict in Danny's [the protagonist's] nature—and cause most of his troubles, but it would be wrong to suggest that either tendency spells real tragedy. There are few books one remembers with a real sense of affection, but All My Friends is indisputably one of them. Mr. McMurtry's talent for characterization and the evocation of place—together with his ability to blend them convincingly, so that they seem almost to interdepend—makes Danny's near-indefinable yearnings for a past which seems close enough to grab at wholly understandable. The randomness of events and of people's actions fits perfectly the randomness provoked by the unfamiliar, so that whatever is odd seems also accidental and completely unstaged. Mr. McMurtry often writes very well indeed, using a gentle sense of humour to demonstrate that the past, particularly Danny's, is often not so much lost as forfeited.

"Past Master," in The Times Literary Supplement (reproduced by permission), March 23, 1973, p. 313.

There is this little guy who keeps cropping up in modern American fiction whom I for one am getting a trifle fed up with. He is young, in his early twenties perhaps, wide-eyed, innocent or guileless, always making a gentle fool of himself, misunderstanding other people. He tends to be naïve about sex and the nasty, manipulating ways of older people. He feels really bad about himself. But sooner or later something happens (usually a girl) which brings him to his senses. He takes a few deep breaths, gets everything neatly in place and strides purposefully into the middle-distance conscious of now being an adult.

And here he is again. This time [in All My Friends are Going to be Strangers] he is called Danny Deck and his creator is, as it were, having the cake and keeping it. Because, although Danny appears the young innocent, he has actually sold his first novel to a New York publishing house. So we can assume that Danny's long haul to manhood is a self-inflicted burden. Not that publishing a novel is a necessary sign of maturity, but it does imply a certain application, talent and perception that Danny doesn't seem, at the beginning at least, to possess.

So he falls in love with Sally, a sexy piece, but difficult. They marry rather hurriedly and Danny attempts to settle down as a student. But after a few ups and downs, with Sally becoming increasingly more difficult, they leave their shaky shack in Houston and drive through to San Francisco where Danny still expects to meet Kerouac round every corner. Sally fades and Jill appears—and she is difficult in a rather different way.

In a way this reads like a first novel. But it isn't; in fact it comes from a very accomplished and admired writer, author of several novels at least two of which (Hud and The Last Picture Show) have become admired films. McMurtry's skill and technique is realised in characterisation and incidental scenes rather than in the overall conception. Danny's Mexican friend Petey, a curious English professor, and Jenny, an older married woman, are well created. There are some very funny scenes (including a pool-side party involving three beady lesbians) and some creepy ones, especially, towards the end, where Danny and Petey are stopped and maltreated by a couple of Texas Rangers—overtones here of Easy Rider. I think there is a lot to enjoy in this novel, but bright-eyed young Americans (and they come in all sexes these days) coming to Terms with Life are becoming a glut on the market.

Roger Baker, in Books and Bookmen, November, 1973, pp. 101-02.