In the original Thalia trilogy sequence, this is novel 3, released after “Texasville” and “The Last Picture Show.”
This is the story of Duane Moore at 60-something and how he steps away from his traditional life, en route to self-discovery and potentially a nervous breakdown as well. It’s a quest and at the same time an abandonment. It’s a rarity in popular fiction books these days: a thorough examination of how an aging male tends to think, change, shed, yearn. The novel has aspects similar to Updike’s later-years “Rabbit,” but the angst and manners are Southern.
Despite occasional scenes of tedium and redundancy, the narrative is enjoyable and well presented. McMurtry’s perceptions and humor are always cooking underneath. In novel series mode, there are a lot of accumulative characterizations and brief summaries of history. It’s all concise and good – we are kept in the loop with longtime Thalia cast members Bobby Lee, Jacy, Sonny, Ruth, and Lester.
When McMurtry brings what is pertinent to the foreground, it is all the more amplified by the generous existence in his narrative of what is not pertinent. This is a key element in his writing style.
Duane looks for some way to see the world other than from the cab of a pickup truck and becomes a dedicated walker and bicyclist. In between he experiences the difficulties of busting loose, the joys and challenges of solitude, new ways to regard the world, and so on. By book’s end he has lost his wife, given away his dog, built a garden, and fallen in love with a lesbian psychologist. Eventually he is broken down emotionally and collapses. He hastily regroups and in his last act of escape, he hurriedly enlists a travel agent and flies away to exotic places abroad.
McMurtry is never better. Actions are emblematic and open to interpretation. In the novel’s final chapters, he weaves in elements of his own experience with reading Proust (the author read the volumes during recovery from heart surgery). Duane’s psychologist, a sophisticated woman named Honor, asks him by way of a prescription to read the Vintage three- volume set (about 3,000 pages) of “In Search of Lost Times.” Duane, who is a simple yet smarter-than-most Texas dude, works his way through it over a year’s time. Honor invites him to a book discussion, and McMurtry creates an electrifying chapter where surprises abound. In his subsequent next-day session at Honor’s office, the book’s climax takes place.