cover image Larry McMurtry: A Life

Larry McMurtry: A Life

Tracy Daugherty. St. Martin’s, $35 (560p) ISBN 978-1-250-28233-0

In this authoritative outing, literary biographer Daugherty (Just One Catch) traces the rise of author Larry McMurtry (1936–2021) from “minor regional novelist” to Pulitzer Prize–winning bestseller. Writing that McMurtry was born “into a dying way of life,” Daugherty details the author’s childhood on a ranch near Archer City, Tex., where he listened to his cowboy uncles talk about what cattle drives were like before “the appearance of barbed wire spelled the end of the open range.” McMurtry became fascinated by “the Old West” and wrote two westerns before he turned 22, emerging as a prolific wordsmith who claimed he “can’t do more than two drafts of anything.” Daugherty delves into McMurtry’s complex relationships with women, discussing the novelist’s quasi-romantic entanglement with his first literary agent, Dorothea Oppenheimer, and his coy answers whenever he was asked about the nature of his relationship with collaborator Diana Ossana, with whom he wrote the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain. This is no hagiography—Daugherty contends that McMurtry’s five-pages-a-day writing routine privileged quantity over quality. Still, he takes the bestseller’s oeuvre seriously and the literary analysis is keen, as when Daugherty argues that McMurtry’s work is united by the “belief that nothing important could really be explained; it could only be experienced in the daily clutter of stuff that fiction was so good at cataloguing.” This is worth saddling up for. (Sept.)