"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Marginal and McMurtry--the last picture show?

Larry McMurtry has a new book out, Rhino ranch, the fifth and concluding stories of the characters and town that began 40 years ago with The Last Picture Show, set in the oil and cattle country of Archer City, Texas, called Thalia in his books.

Duane Moore, who I believe is McMurtry's alter ego and about my age as well, is nearing the end of his life. Only McMurtry can come up with characters like this.

I'm halfway through the book, which I bought Friday, and have to write more about it, but a couple of observations to whet your whistle.

While approaching death oozes though the book, McMurtry's characters and their lives and dialogue keep me laughing at almost every page...they're so true to anyone who has lived near that country or is about that age.

Also, while the second book in the series, Texasville, was a thick monster, the others have not been. The Last Picture Show was not long. Both the first two were made into movies, using many of the same stars. Following Texasville as Duane ages, Duane's Depressed was only about 200 pages long. So was the fourth, When the Light Goes. Rhino Ranch is about 270 pages.

What strikes me about this book is the length of the chapters...like the number of days in our future, each chapter is shorter than I've ever seen him write. Some are barely a page. Sure to appeal to my journalist self, I'm only wondering how McMurtry manages to come up with all these men and women of all ages who are so real, portraying them in so few words, weaving in the closing chapters of our lives.

In one conversation, Duane talks about how "marginal" he feels--something I immediately identified with. His psychiatrist, told him to use another word..."old."

Will this be McMurtry's picture show?

Footnote: McMurtry is eccentric and has put together the largest used book store in America in his hometown of Archer City...a half million volumes in four old buildings he has restored in this town of 1,400 or so people. It's 25 miles south of Wichita Falls, and I took a class there once studying the essays of McMurtry, and have visited the place many more times, most recently with Susan on spring break , 2009, where I bought a fascinating old book on the composition of Cezanne.

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