more larry

I just this moment finished Duane's Depressed by Larry McMurtry. I was going to do my usual and post a review in the recent reads section, but I think this one merits a bit more.

I'll not summarize the plot, it's nicely summarized by the title. The book is the third in McMurtry's Last Picture Show series. It is the final chapter in this story of Duane, his wife Karla, Sonny, and Jaycee and the other citizens of Thalia, TX. (Cybill Shepherd played Jaycee in the film adaptations of the first two books; this third installment was not filmed).

McMurtry published Duane's Depressed in the same year as his nonfiction title Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, in which he drinks lime Dr. Pepper and talks philosophy. That book's subtitle is "Reflections At Sixty and Beyond." In 1991 McMurtry suffered a major heart attack, which was, according to Ray Isle in Stanford Magazine, followed by, "subsequent bypass surgery and a long and debilitating depression." He discusses this frankly, though in my opinion, too briefly in Benjamin.

But where the nonfiction book skims, the novel plunges in. Duane, a character McMurtry has lived with for three decades is 62 and sliding most unwittingly into depression. He parks his truck and starts walking everywhere in a pickup-driving oil patch community. He surprises himself constantly and not altogether pleasantly. There is an episode where Duane becomes enraged by the sight of trash in a creek he has crossed hundreds of times in the past. He knows not what is driving him, only that he is being driven. It is to Duane's credit, and McMurtry's as well, that he decides to go with it. Or, to misquote from Lonesome Dove, to let the warm sleep take him.

McMurtry is great at the seriocomic; at creating moments of sudden pathos in the midst of almost madcap humor and vice versa. His characters seem like real people living real lives. Not like realistically drawn fictional characters but like people you know. This is almost uniformly true in his work, though it is especially true in Duane's Depressed.

I also love the way McMurtry poeticizes the mundane. Listen:

"He watched the big trucks pour through Wichita Falls for an hour, as the traffic light blinked red and green and yellow. There was never an end to trucks. They rolled north from the Gulf Coast, from Houston and Dallas, from Mexico. To amuse himself he counted trucks for a while--one hundred passed his motel in less than fifteen minutes, huge trucks, rimmed with lights, their cabs vast as castles. There were hundreds of thousands of trucks, rambling over the prairies where the buffalo had once been."

What a difference from the earlier two books! This book isn't about sex, for one thing. To be fair the other two weren't about sex either, but they seemed to be. This time we walk into and through depression with Duane. Though McMurtry famously excels at getting into the heads of his female characters, and it's as true here as in his other books, this time he rigourously captures the feeling of a man's depression, ground which I know well enough and which I don't care to tread again anytime soon, God willing.

I didn't mind walking it with Duane and with Mr McMurtry, though. I didn't mind at all.

No comments: