As no one else appears to be reading along with my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project at the moment (which is fine, of course, it’s my project; lots of people do seem to be planning to read “Lonesome Dove” at some point in the year and I’m not sure I’ll get to it so please do just go ahead!) so I’m not beating myself up for having this review out after my planned date of “on the 20th of every month”. I really enjoyed it, and that’s the main thing! Why did I buy this one two days after “Texasville”, that’s the big question. Was I in the US at the time (this seems like a US copy)? I reviewed this last in November 2012 and mentioned then that I’d read it once before but didn’t have a review anywhere. Once again, I only remembered one salient point about this novel, though it was a big plot point.

Larry McMurtry – “Duane’s Depressed”

(11 April 2000)

The process of change that began when he had locked his pickup and put the keys in the old chipped coffee cup was more serious than he had supposed. He hadn’t just been walking for amusement: he had been walking away from his life. (p. 89)

While on paper this should be a depressing book (and Matthew remembers finding it so when he read it with me last time around), revolving, as it does, a man having an existential crisis and then experiencing bereavement, while most of the characters from the previous novels in the series are dead or die within the novel. But somehow it manages to be funny, engaging and fascinating.

Duane Moore is 62 in this one, so we’ve hopped forward a few years. He’s still in his long marriage to Karla, and prey to her Looks and suspicions, the house is even more full of children and grandchildren, Jacy Farrow is dead and Sonny is in a decline. At the very start of the book, Duane suddenly, for no reason that he or we ever fathom, decides he’s had enough of life in a pick-up truck, where most of his life has been carried out up to then, and makes a choice to walk everywhere. Soon he’s moving into a little shack on the edge of his property, 6 miles from his house; then he’s only shopping at a weird hardware shop on the cross-roads, not even daring to go into Thalia. If he does get back into the orbit of his family, he risks getting sucked in, yet he hasn’t left Karla and doesn’t want a divorce.

Can a therapist help him? The description of the process of therapy is what makes this book: his authentic reactions and emotions are moving and funny at the same time. He even has a classic case of transference, not that he realises that. Meanwhile, those affected by his change of heart and lifestyle have their own changes in their own lives; Ruth Popper finally retires and his children all seem to embrace actual jobs and marriages, for once. Did they need the king-pin of their lives, the stoical hard worker and general good role model to vanish to come good themselves?

There’s a very funny moment late on in the book which will chime with other McMurtry readers: this happens when he’s struggling through Proust, as you do:

‘Duane, I can’t believe you’re doing this,’ she would have been sure to say. ‘You can’t read a book that long. The only long book you ever read was Lonesome Dove, and if the miniseries had been on first, you wouldn’t have read that one either.’ (p. 429)

A long book in itself, but I gulped it down. The story of healing it contains, whether from an existential crisis or a loss, and the story of hope, is beguiling. I’m very much looking forward to reading the next two instalments in the series.