A glancing memoir by McMurtry (Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, 1999, etc.), an extraordinarily talented spinner of tales, the author of such bestselling and critically acclaimed titles as Lonesome Dove and The Last Picture Show.
His recent turn to writing travel memoirs (Roads, 2000, etc.) has produced less satisfactory results, however, and here he recounts a Polynesian cruise on which representatives of various nationalities behave in silly and predictable ways—the Germans slugging beer, the French casting snide looks, the Danes retreating into their cabin for libidinous fun—while he combs the ship looking for something interesting to read and takes notes on the passing scene. His descriptions of the people he encounters seldom transcend travel-magazine captioneering: “The girls were lovely, with hip movements that would have earned them immediate employment at any lap-dancing establishment in Las Vegas,” or “The Tahitians . . . aren’t lazy, but neither are they harried. They seem happy, competent, friendly, talkative.” More interesting are his bookish asides on the writers and artists who have made their way to the South Seas—Robert Louis Stevenson, Paul Gauguin, Henry Adams, and the like. More interesting still, if oddly juxtaposed, is his account of his parents’ sad marriage, which began with much promise but ended in bitterness. “He was a bright hope,” he writes, “so was she—and yet life turned out from under them like a fine cutting horse will turn out from under an inexperienced rider.” McMurtry ties these threads together, but only very loosely, with random thoughts on the quest for earthly paradise, or at least “escape from the culture of overachievers.”
No overachievement itself, this is likely to disappoint loyal McMurtry fans.