cover image The Late Child

The Late Child

Larry McMurtry. Simon & Schuster, $24.5 (461pp) ISBN 978-0-684-80998-4

McMurtry's bittersweet 19th novel marks the welcome return of Harmony, the naively optimistic showgirl from The Desert Rose (1983). Now 47, Harmony is working in a Las Vegas recycling plant, retired from her reign as the most beautiful showgirl ever seen on the Strip (she dated Elvis and Sinatra, but slept only with Dan Duryea). Harmony's relentlessly hopeful take on life is shattered when she receives a letter from New York City explaining that her dancer daughter, Pepper, has died of AIDS. Not even the arrival of her sisters, Neddie and Pat (the latter a veteran of three trips to Masters and Johnson for sex addiction) can ease her overwhelming anguish. Fearing that grief might literally drive her insane, Harmony packs all her possessions into a U-Haul and, with her sisters and her precocious five-year-old son, Eddie, begins the drive home to Tarwater, Okla. Along the way, Eddie rescues an abandoned dog--whom they christen ``Iggy Pop''--from a Hopi reservation, and the U-Haul is destroyed in a fall into the Canyon de Chelly. This necessitates a detour to New York City, where the group is carried off to the seedy No-Tel Motel in Jersey City by three Arab-immigrant hustlers. They meet Pepper's female lover, temporarily adopt a homeless teenage hooker and visit the Statue of Liberty, where Iggy Pop survives disaster with a seagull and makes the cover of People magazine. When Harmony finally makes her way to Tarwater, she finds her family laden with troubles so perilous she must turn her grief to strength if she's to save them and herself. Raucous, unexpected and downright quirky, this is McMurtry at his powerful best. BOMC alternate. (May)