McMurtry's 'Evening Star' is a half-hearted, tired sequel

June 28, 1992|By Nancy Pate | Nancy Pate,Orlando Sentinel

THE EVENING STAR.

Larry McMurtry.

Simon & Schuster.

635 pages. $23. Watching "Lonesome Dove" again on TV reminded me how much I liked it and the Larry McMurtry novel on which it's based. While I once more mourned Gus' death, I couldn't help but be thankful Mr. McMurtry chose to kill off the old guy. That way, he won't be tempted into writing a sequel.

I should say a bad sequel, because Mr. McMurtry has written a couple of good ones. In its own cheery, haphazard way, his 1987 novel "Texasville" was as much of a lament for the passage of time and the passing of a way of life as its predecessor, 1966's elegiac but unsentimental "The Last Picture Show." "Some Can Whistle," the 1989 follow-up to 1972's "All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers," was more problematic, but it had its own story and integrity.

Now, however, comes "The Evening Star," his long-winded sequel to 1975's "Terms of Endearment." Although it contains some wonderful writing -- laugh-aloud moments melded with heartbreaking ones -- it's a fairly ramshackle affair that reads more like a family scrapbook filled with snapshots of familiar faces than a satisfying novel.

Here's indomitable Aurora Greenway, now entering her 70s but "determined not to shut up, ever, not till the day of her death," still stubborn, self-involved, bossy and not about to give up on life or love. Here's her faithful, feisty maid Rosie, and Aurora's longtime lover, Gen. Hector Scott, growing petulant as he nears his 90s and copes with senility and impotence.

Here's peevish Pascal, the Frenchman who has been trying to bed Aurora for years. And remember Patsy Carpenter, best friend of Aurora's dead daughter, Emma, and heroine of Mr. McMurtry's novel "Moving On"? Well, she's back, a striking 50-year-old with two failed marriages and three disappointing children.

Speaking of children, here are Emma's three, all grown-up now, sort of. Tommy, "mad at the world ever since his momma died," lives a neutral existence in a Texas prison while serving time for having shot his ex-dope-dealer girlfriend. Younger brother Teddy, out of mental hospitals, is on lithium and working night shifts at a convenience store. Chubby Melanie's pregnant and ready to light out for California with her useless boyfriend, who may or may not be the father of her child.

There are some new faces as well, including Aurora's self-taught therapist Jerry, a passive man in his early 40s seduced by Aurora, Patsy and a succession of young waitresses; Jane, Teddy's live-in girlfriend who has her own girlfriend on the side; and Bump, Teddy and Jane's genius toddler who refuses to speak in a recognizable language.

"You should be talking, young man," Aurora tells him. "Carrying around a block with Greek letters on it is all very well for a one-year-old, but you are no longer a one-year-old. I do think it's time you faced up to your conversational responsibilities."

Bump is a classic McMurtry creation. But like too many of the numerous characters in the book, he is dismissed with a sentence or two as the author eventually loses interest in him.

The book has other problems. "The Evening Star" wants to be about love and family and, in case you didn't catch the reference to Tennyson in the title, death. But mostly what we get is the characters bickering, quarreling, arguing and sparring with one another in their twilight years. Finally, their ornery behavior begins to wear thin.

With "The Evening Star," Mr. McMurtry's relying too much on territory he has covered before. It's not that such a memorable character as Aurora didn't deserve a sequel, but that she deserved better than this half-hearted, disjointed tale.

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