That's the picture of Larry McMurtry that was on the jacket of probably every book I ever read by him. If one searches images of the author, it is easy to see that he was probably not a man who was hugely vain about his appearance although who knows?
Certainly not me.
What I do know is that this morning when Hank alerted me to the fact that McMurtry died last night, it struck me hard. It was one of those situations where you've known for years that the man could die anytime and he was eighty-four and so yes, of course, people die, all of us, Larry had to as well but as I replied to Hank's text, "Fuck, fuck, fuck. Goddammit."
I just wasn't up for that news this morning at all.
I went out front where Mr. Moon was putting up a mailbox and I was crying so hard I couldn't get my words out and he said, "I know he meant a lot to you."
Indeed he did. Indeed he did.
I'll be the first to tell you that some of his books were not that great. Look- he wrote over thirty novels and a shit-ton of works of non-fiction and many, many screen plays and who knows what else? He also happened to own one of the largest antiquarian bookstores in the country. I think that was probably the true love of his life's work. The bookstore was in Archer City, Texas where he grew up. He described it as something like, "In the most bookless city in the most bookless state."
I always thought to go visit it someday and to have breakfast or tacos at the Dairy Queen which was the center of so much activity in so many of his books about the people and lives of a small town in Texas he called Thalia.
The last book I read by McMurtry was The Evening Star and I have no idea the number of times I'd read it before that reading. I think it was during the beginnings of the pandemic and that was a typical reaction for me. To reread one of Larry McMurtry's books filled with characters that I had grown to love so much over the years. His books had prequels and sequels and I often said that it was as if the man had a special way to simply look at the actions and listen to the words of this parallel universe that he had indeed created and taken down what was said, described what was done.
His writing was as plain and clear as I imagine the sky was over his Texas home. And that was the writing I needed whenever I was too depressed or anxious or scared or in pain to read anything else. His ability to capture the smallest moments, the everyday pain and joy of people who were only remarkable in that he had focused in on them, was magnificent. There are scenes from his books, some of them only a paragraph or so, that are as well remembered and genuine to me as scenes from my own life.
I remember when Lonesome Dove was released. My friend Sue and I, both book lovers and readers of the highest order, read it at the same time and were immersed and we fell in love with Gus and Captain Call and all of the cowboys who busted all of the cowboy myths as they moved a herd of cattle stolen from just over the border in Mexico to Montana. We knew immediately that the book would become a movie or a series and it did and we spent hours talking about who would play Gus, who would play Call, who would play Clara, who would play Bolivar, the cook? Turned out to be brilliant casting and one of my favorite actors of all times ended up being Gus, one of my favorite fictional characters of all times. He and he alone could speak the words that McMurtry had given to his old Texas Ranger.
It was a moment of perfection in history for me. And as far as I'm concerned, Lonesome Dove is the Great American Novel.
It is MY Great American Novel, anyway.
I remember reading one of McMurtry's shorter books out loud when Glen and I took a road trip once in the west. California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington. The book was The Desert Rose and I later learned that he dashed that one off when he was in the middle of Lonesome Dove and it was perfect for our ride being about a show girl from Las Vegas which we did indeed visit and there is a scene in that small book that is one of the ones that will stay with me forever. Which is as real as anything I know.
And then, in true McMurtry fashion, he wrote a sequel to that which was pretty awful but you know what? I doubt that every one of Einstein's equations was as groundbreaking and grand as E equals MC squared. Sometimes I think that McMurtry just loved his characters so much that he had to write more about them to see where they went after The End. And it showed. If ever there was an author who was more tender towards his characters I do not know who it would be. They all carried a sense of melancholy about them. I think every one of them did. But they all carried humor and amusement too, as the best people who perhaps think too much often do.
I guess that's enough about Larry for now. I am remembering reading Duane's Depressed to Mr. Moon on various car trips and even though I have probably reread that book more than any other book I've ever read, I still could hardly get my words out when it ended.
Just like today when I told my husband that McMurtry had died.
I have an entire bookshelf filled with his books and I will return to them again and again because I know that I will always be the sort of person who needs comfort and I will always be the sort of person who loves reading and I will always be the sort of person who respects an author who gets out of the way of his characters and lets them lead and who lets them talk the way humans talk, who lets them yearn the way humans yearn, who lets them fuck-up the way humans fuck up, who lets them wander and worry and suffer and love the way humans do those things too. Who lets them lose what is most precious to them and who manage, somehow, to go on.
It is Friday. Mr. Moon is in Tallahassee visiting with his oldest friend from college and his wife who are in town for the night. I was invited of course, but didn't entertain the thought of going for a second. I told my husband, "Just tell them that I suffer from an anxiety disorder and cannot make it."
"Already done," he said. Tenderly, even.
He put my lamp for the library together today.
Oh my, I had not heard of Larry's passing until reading your post. Although I have only read one (Lonesome Dove) I loved it. I believe you feel much the same as I did when Sue Grafton died....... just plain sad. I lift my glass to Larry tonight!ReplyDelete
I know a lot of people did indeed love Sue Grafton. It's so sad when someone who has given us so much pleasure passes on.Delete
"The West is mostly a very beautiful place," he told NPR's All Things Considered in 2014. "There are all those lovely spaces. There are all those running horses. It's a poetic imagery and it's been there for a long time." -we will continue to nestle into his books for doses of down to earth (mostly) folks that we want to know and keep in our circle. Lovely writer, the best, my heart!! I have some good whiskey here, and you can be damned sure i will sit with Larry M. on my mind as I knock it back. Thanks,Mary, I had not heard...ReplyDelete
I used to be a little afraid to admit my love for McMurtry but the older I get, the more I have come to respect the poetry of plainness as well as the love of characters.Delete
He'd have appreciated you knocking back of bit of good whiskey in his honor.
My moment of sadness was for Beverly Cleary who died today aged 104. I loved her books as a child, and my children all adored Ramona. I tried to get my grandson interested. He wasn't. Not much.ReplyDelete
I really never did read much Beverly Cleary but my kids did and loved her. I was sorry to hear about her death, too.Delete
What losses for the world today and a great tribute to Larry. To answer your question, I am as okay as I can be. I finally decided to clear out stuff that would not mean anything to anyone but me thereby lessening the burden on those charged with emptying this place once I've gone, some of which belonged to my mother and other stuff I've not looked at in 25 years. As for the groceries, I am distracted by the bombardment of suggestions and recommendations and the substitutions that are made when I want something not in stock. I cannot get a rain check or ask anyone to order it so I often start out with one list and end up with another. These things are first world and largely insignificant but irritating nonetheless, probably because my sleep is a problem and I am somewhat anxious.ReplyDelete
Thank you for answering my question, dear e. I do not like the idea of you being stuck in your condo for so many months at a time and it is indeed frustrating when you can't even get the groceries you want. This is not insignificant to you at all and you have every right to get upset by it. And clearing out things is a good idea but I just don't like you worrying about being a burden on someone years down the road. I wish you could talk to someone, perhaps see a doctor get a little help with medication (I don't know what I'd do without mine) because these are hard times and we all need help.Delete
Please be well and be kind to yourself.
That’s a beautiful description of his writing. To lose both him and Beverly Cleary on the same day compounds the sadness. 104! Bless her heart.ReplyDelete
It's like some god looked down and said, "Oh! Let's take writers today! Who are some of the most beloved authors? Cleary? McMurtry! Sure. Why not?"Delete
I remember reading the Henry Huggins books in first grade. His adventures made reading worthwhile and inspired a lifelong love. I am glad that Beverly Cleary made it to 104.ReplyDelete
I hope that Clearly's last years were happy ones. If so- hurray that she lived that long!Delete
What a wonderful and heartfelt tribute to Larry McMurtry. I wish that his family and friends could read what you have written. "The Last Picture Show" is one of my all-time favourite films. I first saw it in 1972 and watched it again last year. It was just as sweet and melancholic and beautiful as it was almost fifty years ago. I shall make a point of reading one of your recommendations in the not-to-distant future.ReplyDelete
The book that I mentioned loving so much- "Duane's Depressed" is part of the series that started with "The Last Picture Show." If you want a list of the books in order, you can see them at https://www.bookseriesinorder.com/larry-mcmurtry/.Delete
I fell in love with all of those characters a long, long time ago and am still in love with them.
A heartfelt tribute to McMurtry. Far better than any others I have read.ReplyDelete
Oh thank you, Mary! Of course I did use some of the others for my facts.Delete
I've never read any of his books. Not a fan of westerns. Right now I'm almost at the end of an eight book sci fi series which has kept my mind busy and distracted for the last couple of months.ReplyDelete
I'm sorry you're having such a hard time right now. I don't have anxiety as a rule and I can't imagine how awful it would be. My middle daughter has this and I know it causes her distress.
Sending hugs and love.
I'm a sci-fi fan, which series? also, McMurtry's books aren't really westerns.Delete
The Expanse, but they go by different names. Written by James S.A. Corey.Delete
Ellen's right- McMurtry is not what you would consider to be a writer of westerns. In fact, his books are largely considered to be the myth-busters of the classic western novel. And many of his books are written in contemporary times. Or were contemporary when he wrote them.Delete
I've never read any of his books, but I may have to read Lonesome Dove now.ReplyDelete
84 is a pretty good run, and Beverly Cleary (whose books I grew up with) had an even better one--104 years old!
Oh yes! Read Lonesome Dove! It will take you to a world where you can truly settle in for a good long while.Delete
I've read a lot of his books, loved Lonesome Dove of course and the movie could not have been better cast but I don't think I've ever reread any of them. my husband has but then he does reread books he likes. I don't as a general rule as there are so many books out there I haven't read.ReplyDelete
I need to learn how to make martinis.
Well, I go through periods when nothing I pick up to read satisfies me and there have been times when I was so deep into anxiety that I literally could not focus on anything new. At those times, rereading a McMurtry has been a godsend for me.Delete
I'm sure you can watch a Youtube on making martinis. We make vodka ones with Tito's- another wonderful gift from Texas to the world.
I was just reading about the death of Beverly Cleary, but I guess I didn't scroll far enough down the obits page because I completely missed the news about McMurtry. I remember reading "Lonesome Dove" in my little village in Morocco while I was in the Peace Corps. It was very comforting to read such an American book while I was coping with such an alien environment -- and I LOVED that book. I believe it's the only McMurtry I've ever read, which is shameful.ReplyDelete
I can only imagine what it must have been like to read about Gus and Call in Morocco! As I always say about "Lonesome Dove"- even my husband read it and reading is not his thing at all. He loved it.Delete
I am so sorry for your loss. I did not know him but you have written a wonderful tribute which makes me want to know him.ReplyDelete
You are an amazing writer yourself. Thank you!
Oh, thank you Ellen! I appreciate that so very much. I really do.Delete
What a great tribute to a writer. He really means a lot to you.ReplyDelete
He does, dear Boud. He does.Delete
I admit I'd never heard of him - but I've just looked him up on Amazon and I'm sure I will love meeting him all the same!ReplyDelete
I hope you like him because if you do, there is plenty to read and love.Delete
Remember I said I don't have anxiety? I do I just realized, just never had a name for it. We just came from a visit with my son and grandson. My son was very agitated, angry and not making much sense. My stomach hurts and I feel anxious I guess. We left when my son started arguing about mask wearing rules. It hurts and I want to cry.ReplyDelete
Yeah. That sounds like anxiety to me, honey. And why shouldn't that make you anxious? I am so sorry.Delete
Incredible elegy -- I did not know he'd died, so I am grateful that I learned about it here.ReplyDelete
I thought you might appreciate these memories of McMurtry. https://twitter.com/sophiebiblio/status/1375510639909564421ReplyDelete
Of all the male writers I've ever read, he wrote woman better than anybody. I think he really loved them. He will be greatly missed!ReplyDelete
I'm in the middle of Duane's Depressed, very grateful that you recommended it to me years ago. It's so rich, I'm savoring it very slowly.ReplyDelete