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Larry McMurtry

[04] When the Light Goes

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In this masterful and often surprising sequel to the acclaimed Duane's Depressed, the Pulitzer Prize- and Oscar-winning author of Lonesome Dove has written a haunting, elegiac, and occasionally erotic novel about one of his most beloved characters. Duane Moore first made his appearance in The Last Picture Showand, like his author, he has aged but not lost his vigor or his taste for life.
Back from a two-week trip to Egypt, Duane finds he cannot readjust to life in Thalia, the small, dusty, West Texas hometown in which he has spent all of his life. In the short time he was away, it seems that everything has changed alarmingly. His office barely has a reason to exist now that his son Dickie is running the company from Wichita Falls, his lifelong friends seem to have suddenly grown old, his familiar hangout, once a good old-fashioned convenience store, has been transformed into an “Asian Wonder Deli,” his daughters seem to have taken leave of their senses and moved on to new and strange lives, and his own health is at serious risk.
It's as if Duane cannot find any solace or familiarity in Thalia and cannot even bring himself to revisit the house he shared for decades with his late wife, Karla, and their children and grandchildren. He spends his days aimlessly riding his bicycle (already a sign of serious eccentricity in West Texas) and living in his cabin outside town. The more he tries to get back to the rhythm of his old life, the more he realizes that he should have left Thalia long ago — indeed everybody he cared for seems to have moved on without him, to new lives or to death.
The only consolation is meeting the young, attractive geologist, Annie Cameron, whom Dickie has hired to work out of the Thalia office. Annie is brazenly seductive, yet oddly cold, young enough to be Duane's daughter, or worse, and Duane hasn't a clue how to handle her. He's also in love with his psychiatrist, Honor Carmichael, who after years of rebuffing him, has decided to undertake what she feels is Duane's very necessary sex reeducation, opening him up to some major, life-changing surprises.
For the lesson of When the Light Goes is that where there's life, there is indeed hope — Duane, widowed, displaced from whatever is left of his own life, suddenly rootless in the middle of his own hometown, and at risk of death from a heart that also doesn't seem to be doing its job, is in the end saved by sex, by love, and by his own compassionate and intense interest in other people and the surprises they reveal.
At once realistic and life-loving, often hilariously funny, and always moving, though without a touch of sentimentality, Larry McMurtry has opened up a new chapter in Duane's life and, in doing so, written one of his finest and most compelling novels to date, doing for Duane what he did so triumphantly for Aurora in Terms of Endearment.
From Publishers WeeklyWith less than happy results, McMurtry picks up the story of Duane Moore (Duane's Depressed) two years after he left him alone in a remote Texas cabin, suddenly widowed and among his fractious brood. As Duane, now 64, returns from an impromptu trip to Egypt, he's confronted by Anne Cameron, a young, flirtatious computer expert hired by Duane's son, Dickie (now manager of the small family oil company). Although smitten, Duane is still haunted by the memory of his wife, Karla, and also succumbs to a lassitude about his sex drive that ultimately reveals a more serious health problem. His therapist, Honor Carmichael, decides (after the death of her lover) that all Duane needs is some self-confidence, so she temporarily sets aside her professional ethics (and her lesbianism) to come to his aid. In the meantime, old friends die, as does his tiny town of Thalia (setting of six McMurtry novels, finally swallowed up by creeping sprawl), and his daughters annoy him. Bereft of subplot or complications, this slim novel reads like a short story, and the second half is dominated by vivid but curiously clinical sex scenes. Although amusing in places and full of sharp McMurtry observations and sentences, it's as weak a book as he has produced. (Mar.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From BooklistIn his now-classic debut novel, The Last Picture Show(1966), McMurtry introduced readers to a dying Texas town called Thalia and a lively teenager named Duane Moore. McMurtry revisited both in his novels Texasville (1987) and Duane's Depressed (1999), rendering Duane as a sort of West Texas equivalent of Updike's Rabbit Angstrom. McMurtry's latest novel begins with Duane, now 65, returning from an overseas sabbatical designed to relieve his grief for his deceased wife. He finds that his life in Thalia has receded; his children have all moved on, his oil company is successful without him, and he is utterly alone. In walks Annie, a young blond and new employee at the company. Annie flirts with Duane but soon reveals that--despite her 27 years--she knows almost nothing about sex. Duane hasn't learned much either but is willing to share his meager education with Annie. McMurtry keeps the sexual play frank--too frank, with descriptions of Duane's impotence falling under the heading of too much information Although Duane is surprised by his late-blooming sexuality, readers won't be, and his prolonged malaise deadens the impact of his self-discovery. Still, it's nice to know what ultimately becomes of old Duane--even if it isn't particularly enthralling. Jerry EberleCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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