Authors: Larry McMurtry

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and essayist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Horseman, Pass By, 1961

Leaving Cheyenne, 1963

The Last Picture Show, 1966

Moving On, 1970

All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers, 1972

Terms of Endearment, 1975

Somebody’s Darling, 1978

Cadillac Jack, 1982

The Desert Rose, 1983

Lonesome Dove, 1985

Texasville, 1987

Anything for Billy, 1988

Some Can Whistle, 1989

Buffalo Girls, 1990

The Evening Star, 1992

Streets of Laredo, 1993

Pretty Boy Floyd, 1994 (with Diana Ossana)

The Late Child, 1995

Dead Man’s Walk, 1995

Comanche Moon, 1997

Zeke and Ned, 1997 (with Ossana)

Duane’s Depressed, 1999

Boone’s Lick, 2000

Sin Killer, 2002

The Wandering Hill, 2003

Nonfiction:

In a Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas, 1968

It’s Always We Rambled: An Essay on Rodeo, 1974

Film Flam: Essays on Hollywood, 1987

Crazy Horse, 1999

Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections at Sixty and Beyond, 1999

Roads: Driving America’s Great Highways, 2000

Paradise, 2001

Sacagawea’s Nickname: Essays on the American West, 2001

Edited Text:

Still Wild: Short Fiction of the American West, 2000

Biography

Larry Jeff McMurtry’s early novels of Texas in transition placed him, as a very young man, among the most important writers of his native state. As he matured and broadened his scope, McMurtry gained wide recognition as a skilled writer, one whose particular and natural interest in the West, its past and its present, provided him a special position among regional novelists. However, since the publication of Lonesome Dove, which landed on the best-seller lists and won him the Pulitzer Prize (1986), McMurtry has been considered one of the giants of American literature.{$I[AN]9810001087}{$I[A]McMurtry, Larry[MacMurtry, Larry]}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;McMurtry, Larry[MacMurtry, Larry]}{$I[tim]1936;McMurtry, Larry[MacMurtry, Larry]}

Larry McMurtry

(Lee Marmon)

He was born to William Jefferson McMurtry and Hazel Ruth (McIver) McMurtry in Wichita Falls, Texas, the nearest town of any size to his family’s Archer County ranch. His paternal grandparents had arrived in Texas in 1877. They had lived in Denton County in northeast Texas for some ten years, then moved west to Archer County in north central Texas, purchasing a few acres of ranch land there. McMurtry’s father and most of his uncles were cowboy-ranchers, all but McMurtry’s father having settled in or near the Panhandle town of Clarendon, Texas, which served as a trade center for the great ranches of that vast, open territory. The nine McMurtry sons eventually accumulated, among them, ranches of almost 150,000 acres, on which they grazed thousands of head of cattle. At annual family gatherings in Clarendon, much of the men’s time was spent exchanging yarns. This fare was perhaps more nourishing to the bookish yet book-starved Larry than was the standard reunion barbecue.

McMurtry attended public schools in Archer City. The school library in such a town provided little to satisfy a potentially serious reader. Its few dozen shelves held biographies of figures in American history or of greats in the sports world. It is no wonder that McMurtry wrote of his excitement when, having first entered a university library at age eighteen, he realized that before him lay “the whole of the world’s literature.” After one year at Rice University in Houston, McMurtry transferred to North Texas State College in Denton, where he completed a B.A. in 1958. Back at Rice for graduate work, McMurtry completed his M.A. in the spring of 1960. He continued his studies as a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University in 1960. He returned to Rice in 1963, where he found the atmosphere a comfortable one for writing. He remained at Rice until 1972.

It was during his junior year at North Texas State College that McMurtry began to write. Once he found that he liked writing, he required little outside encouragement. He wrote Horseman, Pass By in the autumn of 1958, and Leaving Cheyenne was completed soon after. The critically acclaimed Horseman, Pass By was the first of a trilogy that included Leaving Cheyenne and The Last Picture Show, all having as their major theme the sense of loss and the uncertainty experienced by those left behind and by those forced to move off the land or away from the small towns of the rural West. It was the social change that McMurtry had observed as a perceptive young man in Archer City and of which he himself had been part.

The next three novels, Moving On, All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers, and Terms of Endearment use the same theme as the first three, presented from the perspective of those who have left the rural life and have found themselves in the city. Both trilogies have as principal characters members of what McMurtry referred to as a “transitional generation,” his own membership of which provided him with both insight and material.

Terms of Endearment was highly regarded, and the film version won the Academy Award for best picture (1983). However, McMurtry was becoming bored with his own writing. Thinking that the remedy might be a change of setting for his novels, the author set the next three outside Texas. Somebody’s Darling and Cadillac Jack were not well received, and The Desert Rose was praised primarily for characterization.

McMurtry’s next novel, Lonesome Dove, a prizewinning novel of the Old West, marked a turning point in his career. From that time on he could count on impressive sales figures, film contracts, and serious consideration and often lyrical enthusiasm from critics and scholars, some of whom now referred to him as the Faulkner of the West.

McMurtry’s interest in the relationship between myth, memory, and reality is evident in such later novels as Anything for Billy, about Billy the Kid and the writer who invented him; Buffalo Girls, whose protagonist is the indomitable Calamity Jane; and Pretty Boy Floyd, a book about the Oklahoma outlaw who flourished during the 1920’s, which was written in collaboration with McMurtry’s friend Diana Ossana.

A number of McMurtry’s later novels were sequels to earlier works: Texasville, to The Last Picture Show; Some Can Whistle, to All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers; The Evening Star, to Terms of Endearment; Streets of Laredo, to Lonesome Dove; and The Late Child, to The Desert Rose. These sequels showed characters growing older, seeing their hopes fade, and often abandoning their dreams. The best of these works is Streets of Laredo. Written after McMurtry had quadruple bypass surgery in 1991, it is a fine novel, but a sad one. In the “prequel,” Dead Man’s Walk, which shows the protagonists of Lonesome Dove in their youth, McMurtry’s gift for antic comedy is again evident.

Critics have generally been kind to McMurtry, and many of his novels have been adapted for the screen. He has been acknowledged by most as having a special talent for descriptive narrative, for developing characters that are real, and for creating authentic dialogue. Some contend that his novels are insufficient in description; others maintain that he fails to do adequate research, occasionally including anachronisms in his novels. Even his harshest critics, however, admit that it is difficult to forget McMurtry’s characters or to deny his humor, so often absent in other Western novels.

BibliographyBusby, Mark. Larry McMurtry and the West: An Ambivalent Relationship. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1995. Examines McMurtry’s treatment of the West in his works. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Jones, Malcolm. “The Poet Lariat.” Newsweek, January 11, 1999, 62-63. This review of Duane’s Depressed contains a great deal of useful factual information about McMurtry’s life and career.Jones, Roger Walton. Larry McMurtry and the Victorian Novel. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1994. A brief study of one of McMurtry’s models, the long and complex novel with easily recognizable heroes and villains.Nelson, Jane. “Larry McMurtry.” In A Literary History of the American West, edited by Max Westbrook and James H. Maguire. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1987. A brief study placing McMurtry in the context of the modern Western novel and showing some of the ways in which he has reinvented the form and given it more tragic shadings.Rebein, Robert. Hicks, Tribes, and Dirty Realists: American Fiction After Postmodernism. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001. An assertion that gritty realism has gained ascendency over metafiction in American writing. Examines the works of McMurtry, Dorothy Allison, Annie Proulx, Thomas McGuane, Cormac McCarthy, and Louise Erdrich.Reilly, John M. Larry McMurtry: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000. An overview of McMurtry’s work, supplemented by a biographical chapter. Looks at McMurtry’s use of history, his uses of the conventions of the Western genre, and the relationships between his novels and their sequels.Reynolds, Clay, ed. Taking Stock: A Larry McMurtry Casebook. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1989. A valuable collection of essays, containing a bibliography edited by Charles Williams and important essays by Louise Erdrich and Ernestine P. Sewell.Woodward, David. “Larry McMurtry’s Texasville: A Comic Pastoral of the Oil Patch.” Huntington Library Quarterly, Spring, 1993, 167-180. A study of the author’s use of an old traditional form in a contemporary setting.
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