For my last post until after Christmas, (my first trip to NYC!!!) I’ve decided to pay homage to one of my favorite writers, Larry McMurtry, and one of his best developed characters, Duane Jackson.
For anyone who doesn’t know McMurtry or his work, I can only say – look him up. The number of books he’s written and awards won are too numerous for me to mention here. I could list things like The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment, Lonesome Dove, but that’s really only the tip of the iceberg. I also have an affinity for him because we’re both from Texas, and he’s taught writing classes at a college or two I’ve attended (not while he was teaching). But I didn’t always know his work. It wasn’t until one day I was roaming around at the library looking for something new to read, and I came down the aisle, saw The Last Picture Show, and having always loved that movie, picked up the book. Then I noticed the sheer volume of his work on the shelves – I must have spent two hours sitting going through all those novels!
Learning that there were more books about the characters from Picture Show and Texasville, I was hooked! And while I was originally attracted to the character of Jacy Farrow (played in the film by Cybill Shepherd), it ended up being Duane Jackson who I fell in love with, following his entire life through these five books: The Last Picture Show, Texasville, Duane’s Depressed, When the Light Goes and Rhino Ranch.
God, what an amazing month I spent reading these books! I can’t remember ever feeling as if I was living a life right beside a character like I did following Duane’s life.
In The Last Picture Show, we see Duane as he is in 1951 – highschool senior, football captain and not wholly likeable. It suffices to say, you never would expect this boy to turn into the man he does in the subsequent novels. It’s about 30 years later, when we meet him again in Texasville. Duane is 50 years old, a wealthy tycoon, although his oil business is near bankruptcy. His family life is beginning to unravel, and it doesn’t help when his highschool sweetheart, Jacy – who’s become a star – comes back into his life.
In what was supposed to be the last book in a trilogy, Duane’s Depressed chronicles the character who is now in his 60’s, and for reasons that are not apparent to anyone but him, has parked his truck – deciding to walk everywhere and moves out of his family home, taking up residency in his cabin to live alone. McMurtry blends narrative with description in a way I can only pray that one day I’ll be able to do half as good.
I can only assume McMurtry couldn’t put this character to rest after Duane’s Depressed, and I’m grateful. He picks up Duane’s story next in When the Light Goes. It’s two years later, and Duane has traveled from Texas to Egypt, returning back home to find things very different. We get to see Duane in new relationships and trying to see his relevance as he starts to realize life doesn’t last forever.
The saga ends with Rhino Ranch, and it was in this final installment that I realized how far a good author can take a character. Like real life, people change, and reading this series we see art imitating life – watching Duane grow from boy into man. He makes good choices, and bad choices; hurts others and is hurt; succeeds and fails.
I’m not a fan of westerns, so there are several of McMurtry’s books I may never read, but along with Terms of Endearment and its sequel, The Evening Star, this saga of Duane Jackson is second to none in entertainment for a reader and a study in character development for aspiring writers.