Tuesday, January 06, 2004

I just finished In A Narrow Grave. Review.

In A Narrow Grave by Larry McMurtry

Written in 1968 and now out of print, I was surpised to even hear of McMurtry's fourth book, titled 'In A Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas'. I thought that I'd read almost all of LMM's novels, and was going through a recent collection of Essays he wrote entitled 'Roads' in which we mentions that anyone who wants to know his opinion on Austin should read In A Narrow Grave. Luckily, my kind mother found the book for me in some used bookstore (of which LMM himself is said to own the largest in the state, somewhere up near Archer City) and gave it to me for Christmas.

In A Narrow Grave is a collection of 10 essays written in an elegaic tone. They deal with the character of several Texas cities, a farewell to the departed cowboy god of Texas, embodied (to LMM) by Frank Dobie's portrait of rancher Charles Goodnight and characters like Woodrow Call from Lonesome Dove, or the grandfather from Horseman Pass By. Indeed, LMM is clearly obsessed by the dissapearing myth of the cowboy. His entire tone is one of a wistful lament. Texas is a vast, empty space for LMM, now dead without his mythical heroes and indians. Reading In A Narrow Grave is like looking at a template for every LMM novel to date. His use of language is precise, folksy and possessed of a sort of tounge-in-cheek colloquial character. McMurtry repeats himself regularly, like the characters he describes, his thoughts keep coming back to the relationship between West Texas men and women, the status-obsessed provincialism of his hometown of Archer County (where he claims bestiality was rampant). It is his (and the earlier McMurtrys') love / hate relationship with his home soil to which he returns most frequently in this collection. While the focus is ostensibly on Texas as a whole, McMurtry seems to never be able to tear his gaze far from Archer County and his mythical town of Thalia. Like an old cowboy endlessly repeating himself around the campfire to any new bucks who will stop and listen, McMurtry seems stuck. In his essays he cannot leave Archer City behind, and as a man he can't seem to escape either. He is trapped by his books and his native land; stuck watching the plains suburbanize, selling used novels in a drafty warehouse, and hoping to catch a last glimpse of his cowboy god; a god who has already passed forever beyond his reach.