An excellent 1st novel, compelling second novel and a McMurtry flop

New Fiction

March 18, 2007|By Victoria A. Brownworth | Victoria A. Brownworth,Special to The Sun

Yellowcake

Ann Cummins

When the Light Goes

Larry McMurtry

Simon & Schuster / 195 pages / $24

Larry McMurtry is one of our most prolific writers. But prolificity can bleed out talent, and his latest brief foray is not only not his best work, it's possibly his worst; and it is not, despite what the jacket copy claims, the end of the Last Picture Show and Texasville trilogy.

At least we hope not!

Nevertheless, McMurtry is, well, McMurtry and like potato chips or store-bought cookies, can be addictive, particularly for those who never kicked the Louis L'Amour habit and keep thinking McMurtry will write another book like The Last Picture Show, or at least reprise the characters with some kick.

When the Light Goes brings back Duane Moore, whom McMurtry left a few years ago languishing in the Lone Star State. Now Duane, in his 60s and (improbably) returned from a trip to Egypt, is about to fall precipitously in love/lust with a young woman who has been hired by his son, Dickie. Duane is lost; his wife, Karla, the love of his life, is dead, and so is Duane's sex drive. Plus his little town, Thalia, is just about dead, too, from encroaching urban sprawl.

When the Light Goes is all over the place. Duane is depressed, feeling his losses, mourning his wife and his own impending (he thinks) demise. His unlikely therapist - a lesbian (the words "unlikely," "improbably" and "ludicrous" come to mind frequently when struggling with suspension of disbelief here) - decides to try some new therapeutic techniques for the languorous Duane. Alas, she does not provide any such tricks for the reader, who is left wondering why this glorified short story wasn't given a whole box of blue pencil and a rest in the filing cabinet for a good, long rewrite. The light has gone from this McMurtry. It is to be hoped his next book will be brighter and far, far better and a suitable coda to the beloved Duane.

Victoria Brownworth is a columnist and critic who has written or edited more than 20 books; her most recent is "The Golden Age of Lesbian Erotica: 1920-1940." She teaches writing and film at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

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