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Larry McMurtry’s Best Books – The New York Times

Larry McMurtry’s Best Books – The New York Times


“Texas has produced no major writers or major books,” wrote Larry Jeff McMurtry, rather despairingly, in 2011. He was being modest. McMurtry, who died in 2021 at 84, was himself an undisputed titan of the Lone Star State and a wildly prolific one at that. During his lifetime, McMurtry published 33 novels and a baker’s dozen of memoirs, essays and assorted balooey. McMurtry’s best-known works weren’t just major — they became major motion pictures like “Hud” (adapted from “Horseman, Pass By”), “The Last Picture Show” and “Terms of Endearment.” And the rest were only as minor as the descending chords in a bluegrass ballad, idiosyncratic variations on a warm and wistful twang. You don’t need to know all the songs by heart for the melodies to linger.

McMurtry’s life, like his bulging bibliography, is tough to get one’s arms around. (To paraphrase a regional cliché, everything is bigger in a McMurtry novel — especially the page count.) Raised on the outskirts of tiny Archer City, Texas, to a cattle-ranching family and educated in the California hills of Berkeley alongside Wendell Berry and Ken Kesey, McMurtry was a tangle of contradictions. He was a known crank and an infamous flirt; a small-town bohemian; an Oscar winner (for adapting “Brokeback Mountain”) and a pathological antiquarian.

But, through it all, he was a writer — averaging between five and 10 pages a day of something, every morning, for decades. And though he was an unlikely exemplar of his home state in appearance — teetotaling, bespectacled, with a mild phobia of horses — Larry McMurtry was, in fact, a peerless interlocutor of Texas, bridging the gap between its rural past and its noisy, urban present. And despite dalliances on the West Coast (with Cybill Shepherd and Diane Keaton, among others) and expensive habits (rooms at the Chateau Marmont, caviar at Petrossian), he always returned, somewhat grudgingly, to his birthplace. By refusing to let Texas define him, he helped redefine it.

For someone with such a keen and penetrating voice, he sure loved to listen. In a McMurtry book, everyone is interesting — even tertiary characters are a riot of quirk and detail. And, most notably for a white male writer of a certain age, McMurtry was fascinated by women, not in an objectifying manner, but rather with a dogged, almost courtly interest in the particulars of their lives.



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