As part of my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, I’m now tackling the Houston series of six books: this is the second. I bought it in 2000; it was the first McMurtry I read and recorded in my reading journal (in September 1997) and I read this copy in July 2000 (again in written reading journal form and before I started blogging).

The whole of this book was born out of one paragraph about its hero, Danny Deck, in “Moving On” and in the “new preface” by McMurtry he says he started writing this immediately after finishing that one: he says he felt he could carry on and get a whole new novel out before he succumbed to the fatigue of writing that long previous novel.

Larry McMurtry – “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers”

(09 April 2000)

It was always a borderland I had lived on, it seemed to me, a thin little strip between the country of the normal and the country of the strange. Perhaps my true country was the borderland, anyway. (p. 285)

McMurtry says in the Preface that this is a book about the questions, given that most writers are going to be minor ones, “Is the sacrifice of common happiness worth it if one is only going to be minor?” and “Is Danny correct in his judgment that it is art that’s distancing him from happiness?” (p. 4). I think that’s a fair assessment, though Danny’s choices of women to pursue seem to distance him from happiness, too. In this picaresque novel, which sometimes, especially in the latter stages, reads a bit like a fever dream, we meet Danny, married to the sulky Sally, who he met very recently at a student party (he attends Rice alongside Flap Horton from “Moving On”), find out how he acquired his unsuitable wife, then follow them out of Texas and to California, where they are just too late to meet the Beat poets and he meets the love of his life, Jill Peel. Will he end up with either woman? With Emma Horton?

More than “Moving On”, this is partly a love letter to Houston, a city Danny leaves but pines for:

Houston was my companion on the walk. She had been my mistress, but after a thousand nights together, just the two of us, we were calling it off. It was a warm, moist, mushy, smelly night, the way her best nights were. The things most people hated about her were the things I loved: her heat, her dampness, her sumpy smells. She wasn’t beautiful, but neither was I. I liked her heat and her looseness and her smells. These things were her substance, and if she had been cool and dry and odorless I wouldn’t have cared to live with her three years. We were calling it off, but I could still love her. She still reached me, when I went walking with her. (pp. 62-3)

The most bizarre passages are when he visits his Uncle Laredo on his flight from California. Uncle L lives next to a weird gothic mansion, farms camels and rides one, and terrorises his Mexican ranch hands. He’s scathing about Danny and represents the last relic of the Old West, which in the Afterword, Raymond L. Neinstein claims is being left behind by McMurtry himself in this last of his “early” novels (here it’s a bit weird not reading all the novels in order of publication, though that would also be confusing because they’re grouped into series!).

Danny meanders through a few months of his life, gradually abandoning women, possessions, his car, even, and in the inconclusive ending he decides his second novel is no good, certainly not as good as the first, which has sold and given him what should be some stability but has ended up not really helping. McMurtry has something to say about his fate in the Preface, that people ask him what happened and he says Danny is still out there somewhere …

An absorbing, uneven and winding novel which you only start to connect up as you near the end; doubled visits, friends, and plenty of water and near-drownings show up in a pattern. I am not sure what about this one made me grasp for any more of McMurtry’s works I could get my hands on, as it’s an odd work to some extent; but it clearly did, and thanks to Lewisham Library, which introduced me to so many still-loved authors!

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?