For the second half of my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, I’m tackling the Houston series, six books set in the Texas city. I bought this one in November 2004 and read it some time between January and August 2005, as it appears in my “Best Books of 2005” post but I started my (original LiveJournal) blog in the August. I find I have a gap in my reading journal record between 2003 and 2011, so it’s not covered in that at the moment, either (must dig out my paper journals for those years and finish that project!). So I can’t easily check what I thought of it, apart from it was one of my top ten reads for that year.

Another small issue is that I found on reading this one and remembering others in the series that the order they were written and published in is not necessarily the internal chronological order, so someone is mentioned in this one in the past who features strongly in one of the other ones. I’ve told myself, since I’ve read this 800-pager now, that I’m experiencing the series as someone would have who read them all as they came out.

Larry McMurtry – “Moving On”

(26 November 2004)

The fact that most women didn’t much like Patsy was a profound shock to me. I liked her a lot – enough to devote much of an eight-hundred-page novel to her – and I fully expected women to like her as much as I did. (Preface, p. 5)

A long, in-depth study of a few years in the lives of Jim and Patsy Carpenter, in the preface, McMurtry wonders why he decided to pin it around the twin themes of rodeos and graduate school, but the two areas make for a wide portrayal of the people of Texas and I think it works. We start off with Jim having taken up an interest in photography and deciding to photograph rodeos – another of his dilettante interests (he and Patsy are both independently wealthy, him more so, but he likes to pretend to be poor and hops from interest to interest like an Anne Tyler hero) and meet various characters from the rodeo, notably the sweet clown, Pete, and his fiancĂ©e, Boots, Sonny, charismatic rodeo hero, and PeeWee, failed kid at the bottom of the heap. Then when Jim decides to do a literature PhD, we meet a host of doctoral students and tutors; this bit reminded me of hanging out with the postgrads in 1992, when I was just graduated, and the mid-2000s when Matthew worked in a pyschology lab at the university, and not much really changes in terms of the types.

There are other family characters, too – rackety aunts, naughty sisters and a rancher uncle who offers Patsy a different way of being. The action moves around Texas (including Thalia) and briefly to California, and as usual McMurtry’s sense of place is always there in the background. There isn’t a huge amount of plot, some affairs, a marriage unravelling, friends supporting each other, a baby or three, but what there is is detail.

It was when reading all this detail that it struck me why I often quote Iris Murdoch (mentioned here the once, as I described in my review of “Girls They Write Songs About“) and Larry McMurtry as two favourite authors (George Eliot and Thomas Hardy fit in here, too) even though superficially they seem very different. Both have a web of interlinked characters who happen upon each other in different combinations; more importantly, both are realist writers, who will set down every thought and sensation of their characters as they fall in and out of love and go about their day. Here are Patsy and young son Davey, walking home after Davey has grasped a temporarily unused basketball and hugged it, thinking he was playing with the big boys, only to have it summarily removed for play by those boys, ignoring him:

Patsy carried Davey as far as the sidewalk and then set him down and offered him a finger, thinking they might walk along together. But Davey had not forgotten the humiliation of the the basketball court. He was not pleased with his mother and didn’t want to walk with her. He slapped at her finger and looked petulant. Then he sat down. He did not intend to walk at all, and especially not with Patsy. He seemed to feel that what had happened on the basketball court was entirely her fault. He was not about to forgive her for the fact that he was small. His look showed clearly enough that he considered her responsible for the whole business. (p. 791)

It did take me a long time to read, but it was so absorbing and almost like reportage in its realism. Patsy’s every thought is shown and it’s a fascinating portrait, and seems to me like McMurtry has created another character, like Harmony in the Las Vegas novels, who is realistic and believable, even if, as he mentions in the preface, she’s living just before feminism hit and spends much of the novel in tears. And did I dislike her, as McMurtry says in his preface most women did? No, I liked her. I liked Joe Percy, Emma Horton and Pete the clown just as much, though, the side characters making the novel, as often happens.

Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one / this series? If you’re doing “Lonesome Dove” or any of the others, how are you getting along?