This month, Bob reviews The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry.
If you like coming of age novels and haven’t read the novel or seen the film, then start right at the beginning and read The Last Picture Show.
It’s set in the 1950s in Thalia, a butt ugly little Texas oil town where frankly there isn’t much going on. Oil rigs work the dusty prairie, young high schoolers—co-protagonists Duane and Sonny, best friends—shoot pool, drink beer and play on the football team.
They sleep in class and stir long enough for both of them to fall in love with Jacy Farrow, the prom queen. And all of this plays around Thalia’s “cultural centers,” an old movie hall where the population watches classics from the 50’s—kids make out in the balcony, the elders enjoy Ronald Reagan and Grace Kelly.
And then there’s the pool hall. Owned by a solid citizen named The Lion, it is where Thalia’s male population gathers to chew, spit, drink, talk sex and shoot a lotta bull and a little pool.
The novel is funny sad and sexy. In Thalia, sex trumps football as the town’s favorite sport with the citizens playing out their “attractions” with little or no feelings.
Of course, there are small town characters galore. Joe Bob, a mentally challenged kid who works at the pool hall, has a sweeping fetish and goes nowhere without swishing his broom. Again, Duane dates Jacy, the town beauty and sex tease. Sonny is in the wings hoping to catch her on the rebound but knows he’s second to his best friend Duane. This leads to trouble.
And then there’s a despicable Neanderthal of a football coach whose lonely middle age wife finds solace in the arms of the aforementioned Sonny, one of his high school football players.
Perhaps the most grounded or at least earthy characters in the novel is Jacy’s mother, Lois Farrow, who is oil money rich and equipped with an “I don’t give a damn” attitude. Lois sees Thalia and life there among the dust, dirt and oil wells for what it is—something to live, “love” and spend through. Lois just deals with it.
Here’s a bit of a phone conversation between Lois who, at the time, is having a lightweight affair with a pool shooting, wild cat oil man named Abilene.
Lois: Abilene, you asleep?
Lois Farrow: You like company?
Abilene: Well, I thought I’d drive out, see how my well was coming.
Lois Farrow: Drill hard. You’re better at oil wells anyway.
Things—the characters, the plot, the story—as in many novels set in small towns sort themselves out in the end. But what may sound like a rather dry well isn’t when it’s McMurtry drilling. No one writes Texas like Larry McMurtry and, although the theater closes, he leaves the projector running, keeping us in our seats for a second and third show—Texasville and Duane’s Depressed!
Bob Cairns runs the site "Page Turners from the Past," a website devoted to bringing readers reviews of older books that deserve a good dusting off!
His reviews are featured once a month on WRAL.com.