Well, it’s time to start my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, and I decided to kick off with the Duane Moore series, tracing the fortunes of a small Texas town, Thalia, and its inhabitants; it’s also third in the Thalia trilogy which were the first three books McMurtry wrote. Although I love McMurtry, I haven’t read him since 2012, when I last did the whole Thalia series, so he was ripe for a revisit. Here’s what I thought last time and the first two times – did I change my mind this time around? This is the US-published copy I read the last two times; the first read was from the library.

Larry McMurtry – “The Last Picture Show”

(09 April 2000)

We have the classic small-town-America coming-of-age story, with Duane and Sonny living in a rooming house, sharing a car, working in night jobs and studying at school, and hanging out at the Picture Show and the pool hall, both owned by Sam The Lion, a grandfatherly figure to the boys. Duane is going out with the girl at the top of the social and sexual scale, Jacy, though she is looking further afield for experience and notoriety and straining towards college. Sonny has a lacklustre relationship before he’s drawn to an older woman. We complete the set up with Billy, a lad with a developmental disorder who’s been taken in by Sam, and a cast of cafe wait staff and high school teachers and pupils who act as a kind of chorus to the action. Events push on through senior year, life drags on in the town, people are bored and do not-entirely-nice things and there’s an air of ennui, of bursting to get away yet always failing.

The development in the book is less in plot than in character, although the plot does move forwards, too. Sonny finds himself turning against popular opinion as he matures, and even arguing with his best friend. The chorus of the town is made of popular and not decent opinion and he needs to learn how to deal with that, too – older characters know to step out of line when they need to, and how to do that.

In a way, it’s a twist on some Anne Tyler – the small town, the wayward kids, the need to just get out of the place. It’s more graphic; it’s about teenagers so there’s a lot of jostling for attention, clumsy attempts at sex, etc. I did find it noticeable this time around that the portrayals of women are quite misogynistic – there are a lot of sex workers who are not attractive, and townswomen portrayed horribly, too. But then everyone is – it’s equal, the men aren’t great, either, and there is I felt a concern to portray the difficult lives of both housewives and sex workers with sympathy. I’ve read a few comments that women use sexuality as currency and that relationships are transactional rather than loving – but isn’t that one way to get out of a small town, to use what currency you have?

The read was made more poignant by knowing what is coming in the sequels. But it’s still a good book, on its own or in the series. It’s of its time again, though with fewer slurs (there isn’t any direct racism, although characters display overt racist characteristics: in the trip to Mexico, the local people are distinguished and not stereotypes, and really when the two American lads end up with no money, they were asking to be fleeced).