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This month, Bob is reviewing The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry.
If you like major novels and haven’t read the novel or seen the movie, start from the beginning and read The Last Picture Show.
It’s set in the 1950s in Thalia, an ugly little Texas oil town where, frankly, not much is happening. Oil rigs work in the dusty meadow, young high school students – co-protagonists Duane and Sonny, best friends – shoot pool, drink beer and play on the soccer team.
They sleep in class and move around long enough that they both fall in love with Jacy Farrow, the prom queen. And it all plays out around Thalia’s “cultural centers”, a former movie theater where people watch classics from the 1950s – kids kiss on the balcony, seniors enjoy Ronald Reagan and Grace Kelly.
And then there is the billiard room. Owned by a strong citizen named The Lion, this is where the male population of Thalia congregates to chew, spit, drink, talk sex and shoot a big bull and a small swimming pool.
The novel is funny sad and sexy. In Thalia, sex trumps soccer as the city’s favorite sport, with citizens playing their “attractions” with little or no feelings.
Of course, there are plenty of characters from small towns. Joe Bob, a mentally handicapped child who works at the pool hall, has a sweeping fetish and doesn’t go anywhere without waving his broom. Once again, Duane is dating Jacy, the town beauty and sex tease. Sonny is backstage hoping to catch her on the rebound but knows he’s second behind best friend Duane. This leads to trouble.
And then there’s a despicable Neanderthal from a soccer coach whose lonely middle-aged woman finds solace in the arms of the aforementioned Sonny, one of his high school soccer players.
Perhaps the most grounded or at least earthy characters in the novel are Jacy’s mother, Lois Farrow, who is rich in oil money and has an “I don’t care” attitude. Lois sees Thalia and the life there among the dust and dirt and the oil wells for what it is: something to experience, to “love” and to experience. Lois takes care of it.
Here’s a little phone conversation between Lois who, at the time, had a light affair with a pool shooter, a wildcat oil man named Abilene.
Lois: Abilene, are you sleeping?
Lois Farrow: Do you like company?
Abilene: Well, I thought I was going to come out, see how my well was going to come.
Lois Farrow: Drill hard. You’re better at oil wells anyway.
Things – the characters, the plot, the story – like in many small-town novels set in the end. But what may appear to be a rather dry well is not when it comes to McMurtry drilling. No one writes Texas like Larry McMurtry and, although the theater closes, he leaves the spotlight on, keeping us in our seats for a second and third show — Texasville and Duane’s Depressed!
Bob Cairns runs the site “Page turners from the past”, a site dedicated to providing readers with reviews of older books that deserve a good dusting up!
His reviews are published monthly on WRAL.com.