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Posted: August 25, 2019

Human drama presented with compassion, sad sympathies

Book Review

By Derryll White

McMurtry, Larry (1970).  Moving On.

            “He just doesn’t know the difference between living and existing.” – Larry McMurtry

I got it again just yesterday. I was in Hot Shots Café and she said “What are you reading? That’s such a big book.”

“Larry McMurtry!”

“Oh,” she said.  “His women cry too much!”

McMurtry has been hit with that lament for 50 years. Patsy Carpenter does cry a lot. She is a little ill-prepared for the life she leads, sheltered maybe with a loving family and high expectations.

She is 24, a quick-witted and quick-tongued married woman full of yet-to-be-realized adulterous longings. But what Patsy does with great aplomb and stunning sincerity is address the puzzle that women are to men. And she does it so well. Her husband cannot dial her in, sexually or intellectually – they seem to always just miss each other.

Bad boy rodeo star Sonny Shanks doesn’t do it for her, but he does open her to the possibilities of a parallel sexual world and a life removed from Houston’s brash rootlessness and civic insecurities. Rodeo takes Patsy into a country removed from Houston’s boom and sprawl, developing without even zoning regulations.

Commenting on the Houston trilogy, of which ‘Moving On’ is the first [‘All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers’, 1972, and ‘Terms of Endearment’, 1975], Larry McMurtry said, “Houston is the kind of a boom city that will endorse almost any amount of municipal vulgarity so long as it has a chance of making money.”

Throwing Patsy into the big sky of the West and the rugged lifestyle, mores and human vulgarities of the rodeo circuit, McMurtry opens her to a whole new set of possibilities. She leaves Rice University’s graduate student life and has her first brush with desire with Pete, the rodeo clown. It starts Patsy searching for a life that she never quite catches in this book, although she does come to understand her tears (I am still working to try and understand mine).

Patsy has not lived enough at the beginning of this novel to know what life really is. Rubbing up against someone like Pete Tatum is just very confusing to her. Pete, a rough-and-ready rodeo clown, takes life straight on, no intellectualizing. McMurtry is exceptional at exploring that lost feeling that exists within most people when they are thinking about or dealing with the opposite sex.  Patsy has ideals about what love should be but gets them confused with the carnal feelings of her own physicality. She loves her illicit hours in bed with Hank, finally accepting that those great feelings are not love. Husband Jim wants to do his best but is confused by his intellect, unable to read the realities of women’s needs. Sonny Shanks pursues life with his ego and his cock, confused by the future but secure  in the conquests of his past and present.

‘Moving On’ is sweeping novel encompassing that time when America felt secure of its position on top of the world order. Money flowed, the pill had yet to be invented, and people recognized commitment even as they tried to fit their desires within those same constraints. This is human drama presented with compassion and sad sympathies.

Larry McMurtry went to Rice as a graduate student, became a professor, reads voraciously and ran an immense bookstore, which accounts for the endless, but interesting, citations and discussions of literary merit in the book. I had to work with this novel, taking myself out of the land of Trump and globalization, and I loved it.

“The weather in Houston is frequently oppressive, but I have always been convinced that sports fans deserve and perhaps require the bad weather they get. Braving frostbite and sunstroke helps keep their sadistic and masochistic tendencies in balance; when you make them more comfortable you may also make them meaner.”

‘Love, Death and the Astrodome’ (1965) – Larry McMurtry

Excerpts from the novel:

WOMEN – “One nice thing about a wife, she keeps a man reminded of how good for nothin’ he is.  Mary used to let me know her low opinion of me every morning and I worked like a dog all day hoping I could change it.  Never did.  She bawled me out the morning she went and had the car wreck.”

TEXAS – “He brought me into being.  No one else had the nerve.  You can’t imagine how isolating wealth is unless you’ve lived in Texas.  There are places where wealth makes people a little more companionable.  In Texas it just guarantees you a comfortable loneliness.”

LOVE LETTERS – It was very frustrating trying to write him.  For the first time in her life words really failed her.  Language wouldn’t receive her feelings, somehow.  One afternoon she realized she wanted to touch him and had been trying to make her letter the equivalent of a touch.  She gave up and wrote a quick letter and mailed it.

PHYSICALITY – She couldn’t reach Jim, and he couldn’t reach her.  But Hank could reach her, in at least one way.  He wanted her more than ever and the night of her return she was very vulnerable to being wanted.  His desire carried her with it; when he touched her she felt all the things she had always hoped to feel.  Most of the four days she had been back had been spent in his bed.  Life became so physical that she had no time to think, no way to think; the bed was their country and thought only a kind of evening shadow that sometimes stretched across them when they were tired, their skins still smelling of the sun.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.

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