Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist McMurtry follows the first volume of his memoirs, Books (2008), with a desultory account of his journey through “the scrappy, variegated world of letters.”
For the author, becoming a professional writer began with a Rice University creative-writing class—“it was bound to be better than sitting in math class, watching the calculus sail over my head”—but did not take off until his transfer to North Texas State Teachers College. Though more or less chronologically arranged, the rest of the narrative is surprisingly fitful and somewhat artless. McMurtry hints that Rhino Ranch (2009), the last of his novels devoted to Duane Moore of The Last Picture Show (1966), will be his farewell to fiction, and this narrative has its own autumnal feel to it: “In old age one writes, if at all, what one can.” Moving among the antiquarian book trade (his longtime sideline), literature and Hollywood (the subject of his next projected memoir), the slapdash organization might have been pardonable if not for a string of abortive vignettes. McMurtry piques interest, for instance, in observing that he once sat at dinner with DC hostess Pamela Harriman, “the greatest horizontale of her era,” but the author doesn’t provide the slightest detail beyond that statement. Many readers will wish he had spent more time on hellraisers James Dickey, Willie Morris and George Garrett; many of the other brief portraits—Wallace Stegner, Susan Sontag, Ken Kesey and Norman Mailer—read as if rendered with a dry eye. Thankfully, McMurtry isn’t too impressed with himself either. He points to an eight-year fallow period in which he disliked his prose following Terms of Endearment (1975). His brand of “old-fashioned realism,” he writes, has usually failed to impress critics—with the notable exception of Lonesome Dove (1985). Now, at the end of the trail, he prides himself on being a man of letters, neither rich nor poor, and sometimes reaching artistic heights in the bargain.
Strictly for fans who won’t mind this often-terrific storyteller not coming to a satisfactory conclusion, but rather ceasing, in exhaustion, from his prolific labors.