The sovereign state of Texas was recently in the news when
Governor Rick Perry announced that Texans might want to consider
invoking a little known provision of statehood and elect to secede
from the United States. Down in Archer City, Texas, author Larry
McMurtry hopefully had a good chuckle and was inspired to start
jotting down some notes for a new series of Lone Star State-themed
McMurtry is the chronicler of all things Texas. In LONESOME DOVE
and its literary progeny, he wrote of frontier Texas before it
joined the Union. The novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for
Fiction in 1986 and introduced readers to Texas Rangers Augustus
McRae and Woodrow Call. A series of sequels focused on life in the
American West before the Civil War.
RHINO RANCH is McMurtry’s final installment in his modern
Texas saga. This series began with the publication of THE LAST
PICTURE SHOW in 1966, and introduced readers to Thalia, Texas and
Duane Moore. In between these bookend novels, McMurtry visited the
oil patch town of Thalia and its citizens in TEXASVILLE,
DUANE’S DEPRESSED and WHEN THE LIGHT GOES.
Some may be reluctant to pick up a book after being advised that
it marks the conclusion of a series. But each of the novels in
McMurtry’s series can be read independently. You will learn
enough about the characters to enjoy RHINO RANCH. Perhaps as I was,
you will be inspired after reading one installment to go back to
where it all began. Last week, while visiting a used bookstore, I
picked up my own copy of THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. Soon I will start
the Moore saga at the beginning.
When readers last encountered Duane Moore, he had overcome the
death of his wife and remarried. Unfortunately for Duane, his
second marriage has not gone well. With his geologist wife
travelling around the world, Duane returns to Thalia and to Moore
Drilling, the business he founded that’s now run by his son.
Duane’s travels, coupled with his quirkiness, have estranged
him from the Thalia community, and he must deal with being a
stranger in the only home he has really ever known.
Thalia has now become the home of a sanctuary for African black
rhinos. A Texas-sized ranch of 120,000 acres has been constructed
by K.K. Slater, a Texas billionairess. K.K. and Duane strike up a
somewhat unusual relationship as he and other Thalia denizens
attempt to come to grips with the invasion of exotic animals in the
midst of a cattle and oil community.
Many of the characters introduced in previous Thalia episodes
return in RHINO RANCH. Duane’s pals, Boyd Cotton and Bobby
Lee Baxter, serve as security officers on the ranch. They spend a
great deal of their time seated in an observation tower following
rhinos and reporting fires set by local meth dealers as they cook
their product in the Thalia hinterlands. Duane’s family is
also an important part of the novel. Son Dickie runs Moore Drilling
but seems to have little time for his father, except to attempt to
keep him away from the business. Duane’s daughters are living
the life of wealthy divorcees in Dallas, returning to Thalia only
for family emergencies. The light of Duane’s life is grandson
Willy, a Rhodes Scholar, who has no love for Thalia but deep love
for his grandfather.
McMurtry’s novels are always topical, and RHINO RANCH is
no exception. African rhinos are actually being brought to Texas in
an effort to save them from poachers. Duane’s observations on
small-town life, life in general, and sadly on growing old and
death are poignant, humorous and touching. In a recent interview
McMurtry suggested that his writing days may be coming to an end.
If so, we will miss not only his novels but also Duane Moore
himself. In his fictional lifetime he taught us much about life and
living. We are better people for having the opportunity to meet him
on the pages of McMurtry’s books.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 23, 2011