The bard of the Texas plains ventures into unfamiliar territory in this slender, entertaining travelogue of the tropical islands of the South Pacific.
McMurtry, a veteran of long car trips along the back roads of the American desert, boards a cruise ship this time around, and not without some foreboding; wandering among the Marquesas with a motley complement of international "island junkies" with whom he finds little in common, this most bookish of writers finds himself running short of reading matter, forced to slow down to the tedious pace of long-distance sea travel, and not entirely content at the turn of events. McMurtry doesn't complain: instead, he passes the time remarking on the national and personal idiosyncrasies of his fellow passengers, mostly in good humor, and reflecting on closeted family skeletons, feelings of marginality and loneliness, mortality, and other matters while observing the passing scene.
A departure in many ways, Paradise finds McMurtry in a contemplative mood. "Nowhere else," he writes, "have I felt so far," and not only geographically. There's enough local color, enough dank glens, misty mountains, and sun-dazzled beaches to satisfy armchair travel buffs, but this is a quiet, thoughtful voyage that reveals that true paradise lies close to the heart. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Prolific Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, memoirist, screenplay writer and bookstore owner McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, etc.) took a 1999 cruise to "paradise" Tahiti and the South Sea Islands "in order to think and write about" his parents, Hazel and Jeff McMurtry. The couple "saw the sea only once" during their 43-year marriage in Archer County, Tex., about which their son writes, "Many people like Archer County, and a few people love it, but no one would be likely to think it an earthly paradise." The lush landscape of Tahiti and neighboring islands contrasts sharply with his parents' hardscrabble North Texas life. Listening "to the gentle slosh of the Pacific" in the lagoon beneath his raised bungalow, he recalls the day in 1954, as he packed to leave for college, when his mother startled him with the revelation that she had previously been married. Aboard the Aranui, he watches his shipmates ("world-class shoppers") while making occasional attempts to phone his dying mother back in Texas. He closely observes his surroundings (the Marquesas has "an end-of-the-world feel," while the Ua Pou flea market provides "a good illustration of the reach of global capitalism and its ability to turn the whole world into a species of mall"). As his odyssey ends, he wants "to turn right around and go back to Nuku Hiva." Readers of this excellent travelogue, abounding with literary references from Henry James to Kerouac, will likely return to the book often to reread their favorite passages of McMurtry's meditative prose. Map. Agent, Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency.
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