Sunday, 3 April 2011

Mr B's 2011 Reading Journey Book 5 (back to Texas again) - The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry

Reading Larry McMurtry's "Roads" back in January (blogged about previously) left me wanting to read his magnus opus "Lonesome Dove", until I saw quite how Magnus it really is. After dismissing that 1000 page option I decided instead to read "The Last Picture Show" his classic American "coming-of-age" novel set in Thalia, Texas - a fictional version of his real home town Archer City, Texas.

This is a superb novel which paints a vivid picture of life in a small Texan town in the early 1960's from the perspective of three late-teens. Sonny is on the point of graduating high-school and is already sharing an apartment with his best friend Duane. They work hard to pay their rent and to afford to hang out at Sam the Lion's pool hall and to take their girls to the picture show on a Saturday night, after which a number of bases may, or may not, be rounded. But whilst Sonny's girl is underwhelming and unwelcoming Duane is dating the rich, beautiful and exotic Jacy, leaving Sonny and the rest of the town's male population to just dream. Until, in Sonny's case, he begins an altogether more dangerous sexual adventure with a more mature resident of the town.

Sonny and Duane are surprisingly earnest and mature characters in a town full of small-minded busybodies and tough-nuts (there are a couple of seriously alarming scenes of rural misbehaviour hidden in here!) but the manipulative tease Jacy proves to be the main catalyst for heartache in the novel. The bit-players are ALL so well-drawn and stick with you long after you've finished the novel - such as the lazy bully sports teacher Coach Popper, the Fonz-esque pool shark Abilene, cash-strapped late night cafe waitress Genevieve, local legend Sam the Lion and the vulnerable simpleton Bobby with his obsessive street-sweeping.

It's a novel of friendship, community, first experiences of love, sex, adultery and death and is laced with atmosphere and humour. The more I think about it the more I want to wax on about it, but that's tricky without drifting into plot spoilers.

It seems to demand a soundtrack of Carl Perkins, Hank Williams and, most of all Roy Orbison....which makes me want to rent the movie (which starred a young Cybil Shepherd as Jacy and a young Jeff Bridges as Sonny) to find out what the soundtrack actually consists of.

My lovely edition (a U.S. one which was all that was available until early March) is above and the brand new Penguin Modern classic version is here - Penguin again picking a corker of a forgotten American gem to induct into their modern classics stable.

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