Larry (Jeff) McMurtry 1936–
American novelist and essayist.
Larry McMurtry has been called the best regional writer that the Southwest has produced, yet his novels are the antitheses of Shane, The Virginian, and other classics of the Western genre. While earlier "cowboy" novels were idealized epics of courage and nobility, McMurtry demythologizes the West. He uses satire and black humor to portray people who share the basic human experiences of dissatisfaction, frustration, loneliness, and loss.
In his earlier books such as Horseman, Pass By (1961) and Leaving Cheyenne (1963), that loss includes the disappearance of traditions embodied in the "code of the West," the disintegration of the family, and the disillusionment produced by unfulfilled hopes and dreams. Hypocrisy and stagnation in small-town life are exposed in The Last Picture Show (1966), as the adolescents and the adults in a dying Western town attempt to escape boredom and find some sense of identity in their preoccupation with sex. Cadillac Jack (1982) features another of his drifter-hustlers in an aimless quest for the meaning of life.
McMurtry has been faulted for inflating insignificant plots. It has also been noted that, while he poses important questions in his work, he does not follow them through, preferring instead to pursue the entertainment value of a situation. He is consistently praised, however, for his skill in using language to evoke memorable people and places in painstaking, realistic detail. While McMurtry's strongest writing has been about place, specifically, his native Texas, his later books have grown away from that base, especially with Moving On (1970), All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers (1972), and Terms of Endearment (1975), "urban Westerns" which some critics believe may be his most important contribution to changing the Western novel. In his collection of essays, In A Narrow Grave (1968), McMurtry indicated his intention to be free of the subject matter and language restrictions which limited his predecessors. As a result, his innovative approach to the Western novel has indeed flouted tradition, even while he has paid homage to its passing.
(See also CLC, Vols. 2, 3, 7, 11; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 2; and Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1980.)