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When life doesn't live up to expectations. . .,
This review is from: TEXASVILLE : A Novel (Paperback)
Thirty years have passed since Duane Moore and Sonny Crawford graduated from high school in Thalia, Texas. The events of "The Last Picture Show" are a distant memory to everyone except Sonny, who continues to live in the past and occasionally gets lost there. Duane has married, gotten rich in the oil boom, raised a bunch of kids, built a 12,000-square-foot house outside of town, and is now $12 million in debt. The boom is over, and disappointment, the dominant mood of the characters in McMurtry's earlier book, is settling in again.
This time, however, disappointment and depression are mostly played for laughs. Sonny, the poignant central character in "Picture Show," has been sidelined in this story by Duane's domestic conflicts, his efforts to remain optimistic in the face of bankruptcy, and his affair with a married woman who is also carrying on with Duane's dope-dealing, womanizing son. McMurtry plays up the ironies and absurdities of life in Thalia where, as Duane observes, everyone seems to have gone crazy. The married and unmarried swap partners with the free-for-all abandon of romance as it's portrayed in country and western songs. And a kind of lunacy grips others, whose adventures push the narrative into wildly implausible episodes of farce, such as a mammoth egg-throwing fight on the closing night of Thalia's centennial celebration.
The melancholy mood that dominates "The Last Picture Show" makes only a brief appearance in this much longer novel, as Duane remembers a young employee killed in Vietnam. And readers, like me, who are fans of McMurtry's earlier work, will be disappointed that McMurtry treats the sorrows of his characters this time so lightly. At worst, the behavior of the town's residents gives Duane headaches and he comes to a realization that his "success" as an oilman and a respected citizen is not an achievement that gives him much self-esteem. The liberated 1980s women in his life (wife Karla, mistress Suzy, and old high school sweetheart Jacy) constantly remind him that he's less than adequate as a man. And at 48, he understands that he no longer has the energy he once had.
Meanwhile, there are pleasures to be had in the novel. In particular, I enjoyed the endless varieties of ironic and humorous disputes that characterize the verbal exchanges between the characters. Duane has a comic ruefulness that both protects him and reveals his vulnerability. And finally, that is the central theme of this novel as all the middle-aged characters (and there are a host of them) try in one way or another to come to terms with lives that haven't lived up to expectations.