I’m late with this instalment in my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, but I don’t think anyone’s reading along with this bit of it (are you? Everyone seems to be planning to read “Lonesome Dove” at some point in the year) so I should get away with it. No reluctance to read this novel, just a glut of work cutting into my reading time (and it’s not quite the book you read over mealtimes, just in case …). I read the battered US edition you can see in the photo, which I bought on the same day I bought “The Last Picture Show”. I last read it in October 2012, when I was working my way up to reading the fourth and fifth volumes in the series, and handily typed my review from 2000 into that review from my notebooks.

Larry McMurtry – “Texasville”

(09 April 2000)

He had never supposed that people really lived as they ought to live, but he had gone through much of his life at least believing that there was a way they ought to live. And Thalia of all places – a modest small town – ought to be a place where people lived as they ought to live, allowing for a normal margin of human error. Surely, in Thalia, far removed from big-city temptations, people ought to be living on the old model – putting their families and neighbors first, leading more or less orderly, ore of less responsible lives.

But he knew almost everyone in Thalia – indeed, knew more than he wanted to know about most of them – and it was clear from what he knew that the old model had been shattered. The arrival of money had cracked the model; its departure shattered it. Irrationality now flowered as prolifically as broom weeds in a wet year. (pp. 323-324)

We’re 30 years on from the events of “The Last Picture Show” although shockingly the main characters still manage to be slightly younger than I am myself now, reading it! Duane has been married to the somewhat terrifying Karla for over 20 years and they have a range of slightly feral children, from Nellie and her many short marriages, through Dickie, who’s shagging everyone and selling drugs, to the terrible twins, Jack and Julie, who just cause mayhem. There are a couple of grandchildren in the huge house, and a succession of guests who move in and out. Oh, and a dog, Shorty, who makes it through the book, although not loyally. Sonny is still around, owning half the town but quiet and sad and a perpetual bachelor, and Ruth Popper is there, too, happily, running marathons and Duane’s office. A large cast of town characters, cowboys, oil workers and farmers complete the personnel, revolving around Sonny’s shops, the courthouse and the Dairy Queen.

It’s the 1980s and the bust years after the boom, and McMurtry’s central idea, set against the structure of preparations for the town’s centennial event, which allows him to pull in characters and set them against each other, is that everyone’s morals have been knocked loose by either all the money or the threat of bankruptcy. All the women appear to have left their husbands and set up with other men – often Duane’s son, Dickie, as it turns out, and are getting pregnant by men not their husbands. I have to say though that the women have far more agency in this one and are the lead characters, controlling both action and emotions. None more so than when Jacy, Duane’s old love, reappears, fresh from a career in Europe as a film star but also mourning a child. There’s a wonderful scene where they repeat their homecoming queen / football captain moment (which Duane recalls they mocked at the time) on a float in the centennial parade. Jacy’s a mystery and gradually adopts almost the whole town, and it’s only at the end that her real motives come through.

There are funny scenes, the tumbleweed stampede in particular (which I had forgotten again!), the bit where Duane is somehow forced to judge an art show, the visit to the psychiatrist, but also such poignant ones. Sonny’s in some kind of decline neurologically and is found sitting in his old picture show, mostly destroyed, up on the remaining seat, thinking he can see a film against the sky in what I feel is the central scene of the novel.

Long and sprawling, wide and somewhat wild, this was indeed worth a re-read.