Book: In a Narrow Grave by Larry McMurtry
My recent road trip took me to Texas, and I found only one writer to be essential.
Thirty years ago James Michener would have been our guide to Texas. He wove careful research into characters and a story line, and he wrote about Hawaii, the Caribbean, Mexico, Alaska, and a Texas-sized book called TEXAS.
Before that, Edna Ferber wrote the book made into the 1956 hit movie Giant which fixed an image of Texas in everyone’s minds for a decade or so. Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and Jimmy Dean convinced us that Texans were stinking rich on oil and still stinking from the cattle fields so their new-found wealth created a vulgarocracy. An image that was honed by the President from Texas, Lyndon Johnson in the next decade.
Larry McMurtry’s Texas literature differs because he belongs to the land. His family roots dig deep in Texas traditions. His first published book Horseman Pass By caused a stir and gained him even more attention when it became a movie called Hud, starring Paul Newman. Two more books were made into movies, Leaving Cheyenne and The Last Picture Show.
Riding on that success, McMurtry, still in his thirties, wrote his book of essays on the evolution of Texas, In a Narrow Grave. He tries hard not to romanticize the West, as he relates the movement of cowboys like Hud from their lonely prairie days hanging with the horses and other cowboys to the new Texas of suburban cowboys driving Caddies. But McMurtry remains a romantic at heart.
Traveler’s Bro will probably jump in here to defend J. Frank Dobie as THE writer for Texas, but the young McMurtry found fault with all the earlier Texas romantics, including Dobie, although he respected him more than the others.
I believe, despite the fact that I did not care for his attempt at a road trip book, that McMurtry is the one essential on the Traveler’s Library Shelf when it comes to traveling Texas. And In a Narrow Grave gives one plenty to think about. Later, of course, McMurtry won the Pultizer Prize for Lonesome Dove which was made into a T.V. series, and I would not want to dissuade anyone from reading that and his other novels about the early west. But until his new memoir Books, A Memoir, comes out next year, and we have a chance of getting an even more current view, In a Narrow Grave will serve to introduce modern Texas.
Tell me, are there other writers about contemporary Texas that are getting it right? Would you rather read about the historic Texas or today’s Texas before you travel?
Photo by “phototram” taken from Flickr, under Creative Commons license
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