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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Meeting up with McMurtry on The Road of Rereading

I'm nearly finished with the winter portion of my blog project for the year,entitled The Road of Rereading, as I only have about seventy-five pages left in The Evening Star, the sequel to Larry McMurtry's Terms of Endearment.

With that in mind, let me start with my thoughts about TOE. As I mentioned in my previous post, this novel covers a mother-daughter relationship with the less than matronly Aurora Greenway throwing her considerable emotional weight around her offspring Emma, a woman who realized early on that her marriage to the hapless college teacher Flap Horton was destined to be lackluster at best.

Emma's portion of the book is much smaller than Aurora's but her story line benefits from such succinctness. A decent chunk of her mother's section gets taken up by a sub plot involving the husband of Aurora's maid Rosie and his infidelities that lead to a bizarre accident and stabbing(none of which makes it into the movie version but that's a post for another day).

 Emma finds herself putting up with Flap's cheating on her(and she even has a brief affair of her own) but the constant grind of daily life with three kids and having to move from state to state due to her husband's job choices does take a bit of a toll on her and rightly so. Her reluctant acceptance of these situations,however, doesn't mean that she lets Flap get away with too much crap:

The big event that reunites Aurora and Emma is the news of Emma's cancer, which is depicted in very realistic terms. I don't know if McMurtry had any life experience with such an illness but those passages in which Emma is frustrated by the slow progress of the disease and how her entire family tries not to unravel too much feels incredibly true to life.

Despite it's reputation as a tear jerker,  Terms of Endearment is not overly sentimental and has a nice natural pace that allows the reader to ease into both the comforting and awkward moments that the characters go through during the course of the book.

McMurtry's great strength as a writer is his slow yet steady treatment of all of his characters, from the leads to the supposed bit players. Not a one of them is neglected in having a bit of back story or personal peccadillo that makes him or her stand out slightly in the crowd. His take on Aurora and Emma's final time together is quietly touching and a beautiful portrait of a mother-daughter connection that was always contentious yet finds a way to reach the true harmony of heart between them:

As I mentioned before, I'm nearly done with The Evening Star which takes place nearly twenty years later. Aurora is still in the midst of dealing with a number of boyfriends(a couple of whom have died on her) as well as her grown-up grandchildren.

The kids are a mess, as their father basically remarried and left them to their grandmother's care. Eldest son Tommy is in prison for murdering his ex-girlfriend during a drug deal, his brother Teddy is smart but emotionally unstable(even with a wife and son) and little sister Melanie keeps bouncing around from one bad relationship to another.

Granted, plenty of children in similar circumstances could have turned out this way, so having Emma's offspring become as restless and unfocused as she was(even with the loving emotional and financial support of her mother and best friend Patsy) is not totally surprising. McMurtry, true to his characters, doesn't get bogged down in playing the blame game when it comes to dealing with the Horton children. Rather, he allows some chance of hope for each of them to overcome whatever obstacles are in their path, one way or another:

The bulk of the story,however, is about Aurora, much like Terms of Endearment was , and this book is actually much longer than that one was. Much as I like a good long book, that length can be a disadvantage at times.

Fortunately, Aurora's charms do hold up well here,plus the narrative does shift to others in the nick of time. The main center point of TES is Aurora's affair with Jerry, a much younger man who has a pseudo-shrink position that she meets when in the mood to engage in therapy.

Aurora's desire for Jerry is complicated in that while she knows full well what she wants from him, his youth and laid back manner tends to disarm her fierce emotional armor, leaving her feeling old and vulnerable, two things that she firmly denies being:

Aurora not only allows herself to get physically intimate with Jerry, she finds herself more attached than she realizes when Emma's old friend Patsy gets involved with him,too.

Patsy is one of those characters who drift in and out of McMurtry's various novels(she even has her own book, Moving On, which I recently re-bought to read at a later date) and she winds up competing with Aurora in an almost surrogate daughter kind of way. Weird but all too true to life in some ways, there.

The Evening Star didn't resound with readers or film goers the way that Terms of Endearment did(partly due, I think, to most folks being imprinted on the movie version which won several Academy Awards). This isn't the first time that McMurtry's follow-ups to certain books have not received the same loving acceptance as their originals did. Texasville, the sequel to The Last Picture Show, for example, wasn't a hit with critics or fans and while Lonesome Dove was amazing enough on it's own even before winning the Pulitzer, the books that explored what happened to the remaining characters have their share of detractors.

Turns out, I read a lot of McMurtry back in the day and yet, there are still plenty of his books that I haven't gotten to. At some point, I didn't feel the need to read him(sort of outgrew him, I guess). Going back with Terms and Evening Star, however, was a nice trip home, so to speak and I might spend a little more reading time with him this year. His leisurely writing and engaging character development makes for a good lesson in creating your own sense of style in writing.

My winter path on The Road of Rereading will conclude with a look at the film adaptation of Terms of Endearment(I'm skipping The Evening Star, it's too tricky to locate). So far, this has been a delightful journey and I'm looking forward to the spring blooms that will lead me to the Hardy steps to be taken Far From the Madding Crowd soon:

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