I've been a huge reader my entire life. As I was growing up Lonesome Dove was so popular, I think I might have been the only human being on the planet who didn't either read it in the 1970s or watch it in the 1980sm and that's why I randomly decided to give it a go.
The Last Picture Show is a story of the small town America, a coming-of-age story some would say. But I rather dislike the idea that growing up is a singular event in a book, UGH A Separate Peace and Catcher in the Rye, or maybe I fail to grasp the universality of the events typically depicted in such books. I admit it might be my own issue, the generally not appreciating this genre, the so-called coming-of-age novel. I don't think I have ever, ever liked a coming-of-age novel... (If you're looking for a great coming-of-age book, though, try Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.
The major players in TLPS are Sonny, our hero, his best friend Duane, and Duane's girlfriend Jacy (Jack ee? or Jasey?) all living in the fictional Texas town called Thalia. As these three high school students navigate their own identities and their own sexual experience I found myself wondering if some of the things that they did were truly common among young teens or among teens living in a small town. Almost none of their experiences seemed to sync with my own teen years...except for the many questions and the much confusion about sexuality, the opposite sex, and the sense of self. Maybe I lived in a cave in high school...
So much of the sexual stuff described in the book might be considered sexually-deviant and appalling; it felt that way, even to me...and how square that sounds. But really, without giving away too much of the content of the book, I'm pretty sure you would agree with that. How realistic? Not very, I think. But I would describe many of the sex scenes as sad, sadistic, crass, humiliating, unappealing, cold, or impersonal. On the other hand, Sonny's confusion and questioning was very readable and relatable. Sonny's journey through the year portrayed in the novel is not a happy journey. From his unrequited love for the town flirt to the secret affair with a married woman, Sonny is bound to find unhappiness while living in Thalia.
The dry and dead town of Thalia, in my opinion, is also a character in the story because the failing little town suffocates each character it varying ways, causing them to act in painfully desperate ways. Perhaps Thalia's aridity and dead-ended-ness is what causes so many of its citizens to look to sex as a way out, as a way to feel something, as a way to connect, to find meaning, maybe to feel alive, though very little of the sex described in the book is life affirming. Interestingly, the ancient Greek goddess Thalia was the goddess of festivity and rich banquets and the Greek work thalia is an adjective used to describe banquets, meaning rich, plentiful, luxuriant, and abundant.
Only two of the characters in the book seemed to offer any wisdom or humanity to Sonny, to the town. Jacy's mother Lois, though also one who has found only pain in her sexuality, is clearer-eyed and strong enough to maintain her individuality among the small-minded small town bunch. She is truthful, even when it is painful. Mostly Lois seems to be an artifact of a time when Thalia was a thriving cattle town.
The other minor character who seems to bring humanity and wisdom to Thalia is Sam the Lion, the man who operates the local billiard club. His behavior tends to be reserved, guided, in control, in stark contrast to every other adult in the book. The more we learn about Sam's life the more we recognize how unique he is in town.
Seems like something needs to be said about the town flirt, Jacy, and her similarities with her mother, maybe a word about the ceaselessness of the town's decline and how that decline effects her, maybe something about the numbness Jacy feels that calls for extravagant behavior to feel alive, maybe a few words about the wastefulness of idle, wealthy teens, or perhaps something about the essential need for good role models. But I'm not saying it here. ;)
Summarily, as our teens change into young adults we see no growth or improvement in their sense of maturity or in their direction in life. In fact, the morbid fact of same old-same old leaves the reader with an overwhelming sense of depression at the continuation of squalor, painful and dead end life choices, and little opportunity presenting itself to our characters. Sorry to be blunt, but there it is.
Notable quote: Anything gets boring if you do it enough.
I did not find McMurtry's writing to be compelling or deep or appealing at all, frankly. It is bloody unlikely I will ever pick up another McMurtry book ever, including Lonesome Dove.
I have to give this book three stars, mostly for some scenes where Sonny and Billy, a simple-minded townie, connect and also for a few scenes between Sonny and his best friend Duane.
What did you think?
Did you like it?
Did you like it?