By Larry McMurtry
(Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9780684854977, 432pp.)
Publication Date: January 1999
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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Set in Thalia, Texas, the small town that McMurtry literally put on the map when he wrote "The Last Picture Show" (and that bears a more than passing resemblance to his own hometown, Archer City), "Duane's Depressed" follows those of the characters who have survived into their twilight years.
In "The Last Picture Show" and the books that follow, McMurtry has created a cast that has achieved instant recognition, both in print and on the screen -- Duane and his friend and rival, Sonny, both high school seniors in the small and shrinking oil patch town of Thalia, obsessed with sex and touchingly vulnerable behind a facade of teenage toughness; Jacy, the prettiest (and richest) girl in town, who survives small-town teenage sex to become a movie star; Ruth Popper, the sadly romantic wife of Coach Popper; Jacy's hell-raising mother; Karla, who later marries Duane; Lester, the high school geek who goes on to become the town banker and eventually does time in prison for writing up inappropriate loans -- all with a life of their own, as rich and as surprising as only Larry McMurtry could imagine.
Now, in "Duane's Depressed," McMurtry brings the Thalia saga to an end with Duane confronting depression in the midst of plenty. Surrounded by his children, who all seem to be going through life crises involving sex, drugs, and violence; his wife, Karla, who is wrestling with herown demons; and friends like Sonny, who seem to be dying, Duane can't seem to make sense of his life anymore, and shocks his loved ones and the local countryside by giving up his pickup truck to go on foot (and later by bike) -- a sign of depression (if not madness) by local community standards -- which will soon lead him to abandon Karla and his family and emulate Thoreau, and will eventually make him a patient of Dr. Honor Carmichael, a lesbian psychoanalyst who has put out her shingle in Wichita Falls and with whom Duane falls inappropriately in love, and to make a friend of Gay-lee, a whore who lives near him in the hellish motel he has chosen to stay in when not in his rustic cabin, and to whom Duane gives Shorty, his Queensland blue heeler and companion, as he gradually makes his way through a protracted end-of-life crisis in which he is finally cured by reading Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past," a combination of penance and prescription from Dr. Carmichael that somehow works.
Here is McMurtry's strongest and most appealing "contemporary" novel since the much acclaimed "Terms of Endearment" -- the work of a powerful, mature artist, with a deep understanding of the human condition, a profound ability to write about small-town life, and perhaps the surest touch of any American novelist for the tangled feelings that bind and separate men and women.
Utterly unsentimental, often hilarious, sometimes tragic and shocking, and in the end full of hope, "Duane's Depressed" is one of McMurtry's strongest novels, a major work of art by any standard.