In 1966, Larry McMurtry published The Last Picture Show, a nostalgic but tough-minded look back at what it was like to be an adolescent in a dying Texas town in the early 1950’s. Focusing on a high school senior named Sonny Crawford and his less sensitive buddy, Duane Moore, The Last Picture Show movingly evoked an era and a place; Peter Bogdanovich made it into a memorable motion picture. The novel remains fresh and poignant today.
In Texasville, McMurtry has revived Thalia and many of the characters of the earlier work. Sam the Lion, the father figure of The Last Picture Show, and the retarded boy, Billie, whom Sam protected, both died in that novel. Coach Popper, after trying to shoot Sonny, has since died, and Jacy Farrow’s mother, Lois, does not appear in Texasville. Otherwise, all the characters from the early novel, now mostly in early middle age, return. Duane Moore replaces Sonny as the protagonist; Duane has married Karla, who moved to town after the events of The Last Picture Show. Jacy Farrow, who broke Duane’s heart and was married to Sonny for about three hours, has been a minor film star in Italy, but has returned to Thalia to try to recover from the accidental death of her six-year-old son.
Thalia has not died. Instead, it experienced a revival during the oil boom of the 1970’s; at the time of the novel it is trying to adapt to the harder times of the 1980’s, when the price of oil has dropped drastically. Duane has become a wealthy man, but now he teeters on the brink of bankruptcy. When demand for oil was at its height, he followed bad advice and bought three huge drilling rigs, for which he owes twelve million dollars. Now the rigs sit idle and rusting, the interest mounts, but Duane is out of money, and Lester Marlow begs him to pay off the loans. Lester has already been indicted on seventy-two counts of mismanagement, and the federal examiners are hot on his trail.
Financial disaster is not Duane’s only problem. Jacy’s return is highly unsettling, since he cannot make up his mind whether he is still in love with her, and she continually teases him and accuses him (with considerable justice) of not knowing his own mind. Jacy has changed completely from the earlier novel. In The Last Picture Show, she was presented as a monster of insensitivity who mercilessly exploited Duane, Sonny, and Lester. Chastened by three marriages and three children, and especially by the death of her youngest, Jacy in Texasville is sympathetic, humane, and troubled. Nevertheless, she only adds to Duane’s problems. She quickly becomes Karla’s best friend and confidante, and all of Duane’s family (including the cook and Duane’s supposedly faithful dog) fall in love with Jacy and at least temporarily move into the huge borrowed house in which she lives. Duane is left in his own twelve-thousand-square-foot mansion to deal with whatever roughnecks and other stray characters wander by.
Duane’s children are a continual source of worry and annoyance. Dickie deals drugs, drives so wildly that he destroys four pickups a year, makes love to the town’s married women, and charms everyone, including the policemen who occasionally arrest him for speeding. He makes the mistake of marrying a woman his own age who carries a loaded pistol, has already shot two men, and keeps Dickie in a state of terror, although that does not seem to inhibit his pursuit of Suzie Nolan and Jenny Marlow. Nellie is gorgeous, a kind of amoral goddess who sleeps with anyone who asks her to marry him; she has so far had three marriages and two children. The twins are foul-mouthed, precocious, independent, and terrifying. Duane is aware that he has no control over them, but no one else seems to worry about them.
The other major source of trouble for Duane is the celebration of Thalia’s centennial. While Duane was rich, he accepted the job of planning for the centennial, expecting to pay most of the expenses himself as a kind of civic gesture. Now he is broke, and he has to contend with the preacher from a Baptist splinter group who is determined that the celebration will be sober and Christian, with an entrepreneur who sees the centennial as a way to get rich by selling souvenirs, and with other committee members who seem to be pulling in a dozen different directions.
As if these were not problems enough, Duane finds that he is no longer much interested in his most recent girlfriend, the county clerk Janine Wells. He stops going to see her when he discovers that she has taken to playing tennis and other games with Lester Marlow. As the plot grows more and more complicated, Lester’s wife Jenny is pregnant, and the father of her unborn child is almost certainly Duane’s son, Dickie. Duane finds a measure of solace in a casual affair with the relaxed and complaisant Suzie Nolan, who has thrown her husband out of the house but is seriously interested only in Dickie. It is no wonder that Duane spends much of his time sitting on the deck outside his house shooting a pistol at the two-story doghouse Karla bought on one of her shopping sprees, or that he often wishes for...
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