Larry McMurtry still shines in "Rhino Ranch"
In "Rhino Ranch," Larry McMurtry wraps up his modern-day West Texas saga with a tale of lust, chicken-fried steaks and, yes, rhinos.
Special to The Seattle Times
by Larry McMurtry
Simon & Schuster, 278 pp., $26
What a long, surprising trip it's been for novelist Larry McMurtry and his saga of life in modern West Texas. Starting in 1966, he's given us "The Last Picture Show," "Texasville," "Duane's Depressed," "When the Light Goes," and now the conclusion, "Rhino Ranch." (Sandwiched in between were a zillion other McMurtry gems, including the Pulitzer-winning "Lonesome Dove" and an Oscar-nominated screenplay for "Brokeback Mountain.")
Duane Moore is now in his sunset years, a well-off retired oilman whose flaky second wife ditches him in the first pages. Reflective, slightly hermitlike, and a little flaky himself, Duane returns to Thalia (a fictional stand-in for McMurtry's home town, Archer City). He befriends K.K. Slater, a tough-old-gal heiress who's swooped into Thalia intent on building a sanctuary for endangered black rhinos.
Plenty of stuff ensues, much of it cheerfully concerned with sex. Duane makes a fool of himself over a randy young cutie. K.K. develops a thing for her top hand, the laconic Boyd Cotton. Duane goes fishing and takes walks with an enigmatic rhino. Everyone eats chicken-fried steaks at the Dairy Queen when not hobnobbing with K.K.'s rich friends. And the citizens of Thalia scratch their heads over all the goings-on.
This remarkable series has been, by turns, funny, affectionate, poignant, and elegiac — or a supple blend thereof. McMurtry's skill with bemused and amusing characters (especially the women) is as strong as ever; so are his gifts for comic timing, dialogue and emotional insight.
"Rhino Ranch" is preoccupied with waning powers, and the author, who's 71, says that he thinks it will be his last novel. With luck, he'll be wrong — McMurtry's been predicting the end for years, ever since he had a serious heart attack. But he still creates wonderful stuff. The guy's a national treasure.
Adam Woog's most recent book
is "The Ballard Locks."
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