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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

When the Light Goes by Larry McMurtry

When the Light Goes by Larry McMurtry. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. ISBN: 978-1-4165-3426-6

Up until now, I've only read McMurtry's cowboy novels, his stories set back in the frontier or pioneer days. Books like Lonesome Dove, The Streets of Laredo, or the Berrybender Narratives. This book is the latest installment in a series of modern day stories, which began with The Last Picture Show (1966), continued in Texasville (1987), and Duane's Depressed (1999).

So why did I start with the latest book in the series, instead of the first? Plain and simple. Because it was on the new book shelf in my local public library, and I was tempted by the thought of reading something by Larry McMurtry. And I wasn't disappointed. The book had pretty much the same charm as the more historical McMurtrys, making it clear that I should probably read the rest of his novels with contemporary settings, also.

The problem? Too many books, too little time, per usual. If there is any complaint to make about the book, it's that there is too much focus on sex. Sex is like jalapeño peppers, in my view—a little goes a long way. I mean, the very first words in the book provide you with an excellent illustration:

Wow, look at those two!” the young woman exclaimed—by “those two” she seemed to be referring to her own stiffening nipples, plainly visible beneath a pale shirt that showed her small breasts as clearly as if she'd been naked.

Hard as little pickles,” she said pleasantly, standing up to shake Duane's hand.

I'm Annie,” she added. “Annie Cameron—and you're Mr. Moore—or I certainly do hope you're Mr. Moore."

As it contrarily turns out, Annie isn't really a very sexual person. She's undoubtedly compensating, psychologically, with this kind of remark, since she's really quite inexperienced and actually afraid of the sexual act, a fact with which Duane becomes all too familiar, a little later in the story.

But that's not really what the book is about. Or is it? The title seems suggestive of the famous Dylan Thomas poem: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Or maybe the ending of Emily Dickenson's equally famous "I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died": "And then the windows failed, and then I could not see to see."

It turns out that Duane's a walking heart attack, just waiting to happen. He needs a triple bypass, and he needs it yesterday. But initially, he puts it off, and just keeps on like normal, except that he buys a pickup truck, and reverts to driving, instead of bicycling or walking everywhere, as he had the past several years.

So, does the light really go for Duane? I'm not going to spoil the ending for you, but it (the ending) does seem a tad prosaic and perhaps even ironic to me. But then, who am I to second guess an established giant of an author like McMurtry? He can end his novels any damn way he pleases. Definitely recommended, and a must read for McMurtry fans.

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