The third of the Houston Series which forms the last section of my hugely enjoyable Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, and I’m realising that you need to read the series as one whole work, weaving in and out of the time sequence, as this one takes us back to before Emma and Flap Horton have their two sons, then forward a decade and more.

I bought this copy in April 2000 and read it in July of that year, along with “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers” which I’d previously read in 1997 from the library; I can only assume that as I bought them together, I realised the link and read them together which makes sense, although there’s more linkage between this one and “Moving On“.

Larry McMurtry – “Terms of Endearment”

(09 April 2000)

Rosie tried to smile but wanted to cry. Seeing Emma sitting there, so trusting and goodhearted, such a happy-looking young woman, filled her with memory suddenly, until she felt too full. She had come to the Greenway house two months before Emma was born, and it was all so strange, the way life went on and seemed the same even tough it was always changing. It never quite slowed down so you could catch it, except by thinking back, and it left some people more important than others as it changed. (pp. 186-187)

In some ways this is an oddly uneven book, in its structure, anyway, as it has one very long section set in 1962 and then a forty-page section bringing us up to date (and breaking our hearts) in 1971-76. In the Preface, McMurtry writes that this is his most “European” book to date, as he wrote it in Europe and had been reading a lot of the European realist classics by Balzac, Tolstoy and Eliot (cementing my realisation of why I love him AND Iris Murdoch when they seem on the face of it to be so different). He compares Emma to Harmony from “The Desert Rose” to Emma’s benefit, but developed a “cool distaste for my own writing” after finishing this, which he saw as the third of a trilogy (now six books) that didn’t subside until Harmony came into his mind.

I have enjoyed these prefaces but of course the text and our reaction to it is the main thing, right (according to my espousal of Reception Theory), so let’s get into the web of relationships spun around Emma’s mother, Aurora Greenaway.

Here I must pause. When I re-read all of Iris Murdoch a few years ago, I was shocked to discover that many of the “older” characters in her novels were my age or slightly younger. Here, although I know Aurora is an old woman in “The Evening Star” at the end of the series, and in her 60s at the end of this book, she is just about to turn FIFTY in most of this one, which is my age!

So Aurora has a suite of suitors, all of them lacking in some way, all of them past their best (or never having reached it); the General, a sailor who drops in twice a year, a sad Hispanic guy with a more jolly son, and we add Vernon, who I love, a man who lives in his car but is an oil millionaire. She’s very glamorous but lives her life in a bed of cushions, tended by her maid, Rosie, who has her own problems with her roving-eyed husband, Royce. Emma and Flap are negotiating the early years of their marriage and first pregnancy, and the novel revolves around the relationship between Aurora and Emma, two very different women who can’t seem to find their way to one another.

Is there a plot? There’s life, really, in its meanderings, encounters and daily routines, with a sketched-in arc that becomes clearer but also speeded up in Part 2. But it’s full of marvellous set-pieces – when Royce drives his truck into a dance hall being a memorable one – and characters, and the minutiae of a marriage, explored in true realist detail. I loved all the intertextuality with the other novels – Patsy is present throughout, loving her dear friend and coming into conflict with her mother, Danny Deck appears again with a pivotal moment in his and Emma’s friendship finally given in detail, Joe Percy the screen writer pops up, and at a party, we see Cybill Shepherd, who had appeared in the film of “The Last Picture Show” a few years before this was published. The descriptions of Houston, really a character in these novels itself, are beautiful – especially a long scene describing Vernon’s view from the top floor of his multistorey car park, sometimes with the mists below him, sometimes above.

It’s a melancholy book in some ways, but with the flashes of humour and ridiculousness that McMurtry is so good at. I’ve never seen the film, but it certainly has a visual quality and drama. And yes, I cried at the end, even though I’ve read it at least once before and knew what the end involved!

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?