I gave myself two books to read for my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project for this month; the final two, fairly short in the schemed of things, “Thalia” novels, following Duane Moore, pretty well the last man standing of his generation by the end. I acquired these in March 2012 and read and reviewed them together in November of that year, and it’s interesting to see how my take on them has changed in that time.

Larry McMurtry – “When the Light Goes”

(27 March 2012)

“What have either one of us done but make bad choices?” Duane asked. “In your case it’s mostly been bad choices about women. In my case it’s been bad choices about food.” (p. 135)

We rejoin Duane as he’s back from his holiday to Egypt to see the Pyramids – unfortunately, this appears to be the “older man wish fulfilment” volume of the series and he’s immediately confronted with a perky chested employee of his (now his son’s) oil drilling company, an accomplished geologist and would-be sex kitten who’s actually alarmed by the act itself and wants some affection. Life in Thalia goes on as normal but interspersed with many sex scenes that are a bit distasteful, though always consenting – just that older man / (much) younger woman thing. Maybe I’m less accepting of such stuff these days.

There is poignancy, with older cast members leaving us, Ruth Popper shocking her old friends and the old corner store having turned into an “Asian Wonder Deli”, delighting the people of the neighbourhood. Duane has troubles with his daughters, as they appear to have made good marriages to rich Texas men but then things fall apart in a confusion of sexual orientations. Duane’s comment to Bobby Lee, his old friend / thorn in his side for all these decades, quoted above, sums up the book, as Bobby Lee is shot by a girlfriend and Duane has heart issues.

Larry McMurtry – “Rhino Ranch”

(17 March 2012)

For much of his life Thalia had mostly depressed Duane, but lately he had developed a kind of tolerance for it. Maybe it was just that as the funeral bell came closer to tolling for him he felt a tendency to linger in what had been, or maybe still was, home. (p. 24)

In this more upbeat and longer novel, we do lose to a large extent the young girls throwing themselves at Duane. He’s married to the one from the last book, and they’ve moved to Arizona, but he’s hankering to get back to Thalia and still seeking advice from his old therapist, Honor. Back in Thalia, K.K. Slater has set up a ranch to save the black rhino, with Bobby Lee and an elderly cowboy guarding the animals from a single watch tower. Duane’s grandson Willy shows the only sensible head in the family, getting a scholarship to Oxford and representing hope for the next generation, and Duane’s obvious fondness for him is a big point in his favour.

The most touching relationship in the book is between Duane and the rhino Double Aught, who escapes seemingly at will and is spotted all over Texas and beyond. Pacing on either side of the fence, they are both the great patriarchs, now with little to do, and much in common. There’s also a great scene where Duane confronts some elderly racists. And although there’s another very young woman who’s after him for a bit, Duane draws strength from and has great respect for Dal, a Cambodian woman who has been through war and come over to the US as a refugee and gives him food and friendship when he needs it.

He still had people, he still had duties. Not going on would be a betrayal of all he believed. (p. 237)

So Duane goes on, and lives through the remainder of the main action of the book, as the rhino ranch and various plans come and go. It’s only in the last chapter that we see his end, almost off-stage, but also get a round-up of those who are left. And like Double Aught, K.K. is never seen in Thalia again, as this elegaic novel ends.

Next month, we’re back to the 1980s and a pair of novels set among Las Vegas showgirls that I remember as being powerfully moving and bittersweet. I wonder if I’ve remembered them correctly!