The story is set in Houston, Texas as widowed Aurora Greenway delights in the attentions of her various suitors as well as critiquing her married daughter Emma's life. Emma is mostly able to give as good as she gets but certain situations even take her aback.
The book begins with Emma telling her mother that she's expecting her first child, an announcement that Aurora handles with her usual self centered charm and grace:
The emotional contrasts between Aurora and Emma are almost polar opposites of one another. Emma may gripe about things but is more of a brooder and more often than not, will gain private payback for perceived slights.
Aurora, on the other hand, is loud and proud in her contrary ways. While in some respects, her actions seem lackadaisical(particular with her various boyfriends), she's more of a control freak than she lets on.
Such things as being late to dates and picking arguments out of random statements or momentary pique are actually passive-aggressive moves that are designed to keep Aurora well in charge of whatever situation is at hand.
Her constant comments regarding Emma's seemingly casual acceptance of a less than stylish life, most of which are aimed at Flap,her son-in-law, are meant to be somewhat loving but are mainly attempts by Aurora to get Emma to upgrade her life. Emma has her own notions about that,however, and will only take her mother's guff up to a point:
In the intro to my reprint edition of TOE, McMurtry calls this novel his "Europe" book, not only due to having been in that part of the world during the writing of it but having gone through a period of reading 19th century books written by the likes of Balzac, Tolstoy and George Eliot.
He had thought that perhaps Aurora would turn out to have an emotional dilemma not unlike Anna Karenina or Middlemarch's Dorothea Brooke yet it was Emma who captured that particular spirit of malaise. While she does love her husband, part of her knows that she could've done better and when the opportunity presents itself, Emma does fall back into the arms of a former lover(for a brief moment). It's a trait possibly inherited from her mother that assures that it won't be her first or last time at this either:
I did happen to read Moving On(a book I no longer have and may get again) but you don't have to be familiar with either title to get into Terms of Endearment. I certainly wasn't when I first read TOE in 1983(yes, I write my purchase dates in my books;don't ask me why, it just feels right).
Aurora and Emma's relationship is the template upon which many other modern mother daughter pop culture connections sprang, with Emily and Lorelai Gilmore immediately coming to mind at first thought. For that reason alone, TOE is well worth exploring yet again. Also, one forgets the easy laid back rhyme of the story that takes it's time in going something but yet, you're not in a hurry to leave Aurora's company or tag along with Emma all the quicker. Slow and steady is the right speed for this read.
So, that's my first impressions upon Terms of Endearment for now. When I do finish reading it(and taking up it's sequel The Evening Star), hopefully my insights will be interesting, especially when I compare it to the film. In the meanwhile, I will allow Aurora and Emma to entertain me with their special brand of fire and ice follies: