Traveling, Cooking, Reading, and Trains

May 28-29, 2020

Yesterday I walked a stretch of the Fanno Creek Trail that I haven’t visited recently. I only had my iPhone with me but took a couple of pictures of a beautiful meadow on the north end of Dirksen Nature Park just south of Tigard Street.

Dirksen Nature Park – Tigard, Oregon
Dirksen Nature Park – Tigard, Oregon

This morning I I the mile and a half through the neighborhoods up to Hyland Forest Park to wander through my happy place. It is so quiet and peaceful in there. I’ve posted about my walks here a few times. Places are starting to open up but we still can’t really get out to the hiking spots like we had planned this past winter.

Google Maps view of Hyland Forest Park

it’s a small park – about 30 acres – but there are plenty of trails.

Trails in Hyland Forest Park

I decided to take my Sony a6600 instead of just depending on my iPhone for pictures.

Romeo and Juliet in Hyland Forest Park

I love how the sun peeks through the tree in places to splash light across the foliage.

Hyland Forest Park
Hyland Forest Park

The walk around the perimeter is about one mile. After that I headed up but stopped to grab a couple of pictures of the beautiful local gardens.

Neighborhood garden flower
Neighborhood garden flower

You can view all the photos in my “Walks In the Time of COVID” on Flickr.

Cook Date: May 26, 2020

Breakfast for Dinner! We did it twice this week. On Sunday evening we had bacon and eggs and toasted our English muffins in our new toaster oven. Tuesday night was waffle night. About a week ago we had Samin Nosrat’s buttermilk chicken (blog post here; Samin’s recipe here) which is simple and simply delicious. When I say simple, I mean simple; 3 ingredients: chicken, buttermilk, salt. After a dinner of roasted chicken we made chicken enchiladas out of the leftover chicken and ate that for 2 nights. But I still had some buttermilk left over. Waffles would be perfect.

My go-to waffle recipe is from Alton Brown. I vary from Alton’s recipe by cutting it in half and using only all-purpose flour instead of ½ and ½ all-purpose and whole wheat.

Waffle ingredients

Get the ingredients set up for quick use.

Waffles mis en plaçe

The dry ingredients are flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. The we ingredients are eggs, melted butter and buttermilk. The original recipe calls for 3 eggs; I looked around the store for ½ eggs so I could cut the recipe in half but just went with the 2 smallest eggs in the carton.

First we whisk together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a medium bowl we whisk the eggs and butter then whisk in the buttermilk. Add the wet to the dry, stir just to get everything wet – don’t worry about clumps – and let it sit 5 minutes.

Get the waffle iron hot, spray it with a bit of vegetable oil and get to cooking. A one-third measuring cup is perfect for our small 6¾-inch Cuisinart waffle maker.

Waffle ready to come off the iron.

Carla fried us a couple of over-medium eggs and we even had 2 pieces of bacon left over from Sunday. – how did THAT happen?

Breakfast-dinner is served,

Later as I tweaked the recipe to make it easier for me to make a half batch next time I realized I did not cut the buttermilk measurement in half from the original recipe. You’d think the waffles would have been too thin, but they were great.

Back in March we were using a grocery shopping service; we ordered maple syrup – which Carla uses when making her granola – and we got a LARGE bottle. Growing up we had Vermont Maid or Mrs Butterworth syrup which are mostly corn syrup with a little maple so it can be marketed as maple syrup. We switched to the real thing and can’t imagine going back. A little goes a long way.

Real maple syrup. That’s the right stuff.

We got 6 waffles from the 1/2 recipe. Probably would have been 1 less waffle if I had measured the buttermilk right. Regardless, they hit the spot. Great for breakfast or dinner.

Rating: ★★★★.

Redhead by the Side of the Road

Author: Anne Tyler
Copyright: 2020
Type: Fiction
Finished: May 3, 2020

Rating: ★★★★★

Image from Amazon

What a fantastic novel! Micah Mortimer is a loner – but not a rebel; he’s just a bachelor who lives a very quiet, very regulated life.

“You have to wonder what goes through the mind of a man like Micah Mortimer. He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone. At seven fifteen every morning you see him set out on his run. … At ten p.m. or so the three squinty windows behind the foundation plantings go dark. (His apartment is in the basement. It is probably not very cheery.)” [Loc 54]

Micah has difficulty interacting with people – he just doesn’t get the nuances of relationships.

“Sometimes when he was dealing with people, he felt like he was operating one of the claw machines on a boardwalk,those shovel things where you tried to scoop up a prize but the controls were too unwieldy  and you worked at too great a remove.” [Loc 1955]

This type of writing is an example of Anne Tyler’s strength as a writer. She uses an exquisite extended metaphor to describe Micah. We’ve all seen those games and can instantly see Micah’s challenges in life. 

His quiet, regulated life is thrown for a loop. He has a girlfriend, Cass, but completely misses a signal from her and that relationship heads south. On the same day, a young man, Brink, shows up on his doorstep thinking that Micah might be his biological father.  This pulls him back into his past when he reaches out to that old girlfriend to let her know Brink is safe. He starts to recognize his problem:

“He had handled this all wrong, he realized. But even given a second chance, he wasn’t sure what he’d do differently.” [Loc 772]

This short, tight novel shows Micah through three lenses of a couple of weeks in his life. We see what caused that sense of order in his life through a party at one of his sisters’ house. We also get a glimpse of what went wrong with his past relationships through his conversations with Brink’s mother – his old girlfriend. And we see who he is today through his interactions with his clients – he is a computer repair person. 

His life is disrupted – he has even stopped some of his daily chore rituals. But he can’t identify exactly why this has happened or what to do about it.  

“All day he had felt a kind of nagging ache in the hollow of his chest. He felt as if he’d flubbed up in some way. In fact, in many ways.” [Loc 1201]

I was so rooting for Micha to be able to free himself from the controlled rut of his life. The events of the week have shaken him to the core; the question is: now that he’s starting to identify he has a problem will he be able to change? Or will he give up like he has done before?

This beautiful novel shows us a person who we understand, who we know. Fiction’s job is to show us the real world through a mode up one and Anne Tyler aces it here. This is the first 5 star rating I’ve given a book in over half a year. I can’t recommend it highly enough; but be forewarned you may not be able to put it down.

Prep and Cook Dates: May 8-9, 2020

The smoker I have today – Mak Grills 2 Star – is a newer and updated version of one I had years ago and sold to a competition barbecuer in 2015 or 2016. The older version wasn’t great for grilling; but what really caused me to sell it was my own approach to smoking at the time. The Mak 2 Star has a wonderful controller that is programmable and can set the temperature within 5°. But I made myself crazy. How hot was it really? I used a third party smoking thermometer and meat probe. I kept spreadsheets of the variances between the built in and the probe. As someone once said: “A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure.” I was never really sure what the “real” temperature was. Frustrated, I sold the smoker to a guy who has used it in competition for the past few years.

I’ve used a gas grill and charcoal grill for ribs in the past few years but just didn’t like the low-and-slow results as much as that old pellet grill. So, last year, after reading about the grilling improvements of the newer Mak grills, I purchased a new one. For grilling it is much better than my old one: it does a wonderful job on burgers, chicken, and searing steak. After meditating my barbecue approach the past few years I realized that simplifying my barbecuing would lead to less stress. On my next go ’round I’d depend on the grill itself. I don’t need to track variances between thermometers. Just go with what the grill says and if I need to make adjustments so be it.

This was the weekend to get back to real barbecue after those five years off. Pulled pork means rub, injection, and sauce. Going for simple, I leaned on barbecue champion Chris Lilly for the rub and injection. I used this back in the day to good results.

Since cooking would start bright and early Saturday I prepped on Friday. The rub has brown and white sugar, paprika, garlic salt, kosher salt, chili powder, oregano, cumin, cayenne and black pepper.

Chris LIlly’s Butt Rub

Stir it all up

Chris LIlly’s rub all mixed up.

I’ve brined my pork shoulders, used injections, and cooked them plain. In for a penny, in for a pound with Chris Lilly I used his injection (recipe in the same link above).

Chris LIlly pork shoulder injection
Pork shoulder injection ingredients ready for mixing.

Five years ago I did a taste test with three barbecue sauces, this Carolina mustard and apple cider vinegar was the surprise winner. The recipe was orignally in the Oregonian FoodDay section but I couldn’t find it. My copy of the recipe is here.

Mustard and Cider Vinegar BBQ Sauce Ingredients
Ingredients ready to be turned into sauce.

Toss it all into a sauce pan and simmer for 10 minutes. But do NOT lean over to smell it while simmering – it is potent.

Simmering mustard and vinegar sauce.

By Saturday afternoon, everything was ready.

Pulled pork prep is complete

I had two options for cooking. In the past I’ve done overnight cooks – it’s easy because the grill is programmable and as long as there are pellets in the hopper it doesn’t need tending. But those cooks sometimes finish mid morning and then I have to hold the roast for hours before serving. So, I opted to get up at 5:00 AM to start. I started the grill and injected the meat.

Boneless pork shoulder ready for injection

After injection I applied the rub.

I programmed the smoker to run in smoke mode for 1.5 hours then raise the temp to 235° until the pork shoulder was done. The sun was rising and smoke was doing its job.

Smoker doing its thing

We were getting hungry and the pork shoulder was hanging in the 180-185° mark so at 4:45 I bumped the grill temp to 250°. At Around 5:30 the meat was at 196°. Ideally, I’d let it go a bit more but like I said, we were hungry.

If you look at that internal temp – 196° – and think it looks burnt, you don’t do low and slow cooking. For traditional barbecue we cook at a low temperature so that the internal fat and connective tissue slowly melts and moistens the meat. That dark crust is the bark and is just soooo good.

When I took the pork shoulder off the smoker, I wrapped it in a double layer of foil, wrapped a towel around that and but it all in a cooler to stay warm. Forty minutes later I shredded the pork.

Pulled pork
Pulled pork ready for serving.

We portioned some onto our buns and drizzled some of that mustard-vinegar sauce on top. Coleslaw on the side please. Some folks like it on top.

Dinner is served. Pulled pork with mustard-vinegar sauce and a side of slaw.

We both had a bit more with the Ooga-Booga sauce my son and daughter-in-law gave me for my birthday. When they were little I put a blanket over my head and was the Ooga-Booga monster. It’s cute they found a sauce with that name.

Pulled pork with choice of sauces

Although I didn’t track the difference between thermometers, I did keep a cooking log, as I almost always do for my low-and-slow cooks. I find it very helpful in refining my process as time goes on. You can find my cooking log here.

Since the gym has been closed for 6+ weeks, my main form of exercise is walking. I’m trying to get 5 miles a day in – sometimes I do; sometimes I don’t. last posted pictures from my walks at the end of March and thought it would be good to post some updates. For the past few weeks favorite locations is Hyland Forest Park – a 30 acre wooded area with nice paths about 1½ miles from my house.

You can follow my Flickr album if you’d like to see more frequent updates and more pictures. These aren’t all from Hyland Forest Park but they are all from there or the surrounding neighborhoods.

One of my favorite things to get pictures of in the woods is the sun shining through the trees onto a patch of ground.

Sunny spot in the woods

There are so many paths and different vegetation in the woods which provide lots of different views.

One of the paths in Hyland Forest Park

But, it’s the spring blooms that really sparkle for me.

Spring blossoms in Hyland Forest Park
Spring blossoms in Hyland Forest Park

The Highland Hills (redundant much?) neighborhood sports many beautiful gardens.

Splash of light and color in the neighborhood
Spring blossoms in the neighborhood

I’m always on the lookout for whimsy. I’m guessing the homeowner is a fishing fan.

Fish theme mailbox

In the past two weeks I’ve seen painted rocks and other bits of craft along the park paths. I’m guessing it’s a reaction to The Rona that is keeping us isolated. It’s so sweet that people are out there trying to cheer us up.

One of many painted rocks hidden in Hyland Forest Park

I’m not sure of the architecture here; do any of you know whether this is an elf, or fairie home?

Elf or Fairie home? Hyland Forest Park

Stay healthy.

Rhino Ranch

Author: Larry McMurtry
Copyright: 2009
Type: Fiction
Finished: April 28, 2020


Image from Amazon

Ironically my longest write up of the Duane Moore series is for the shortest volume. This final novel of the Thalia/Duane Moore trilogy is a study of the tension between the small town of Thalia and outsiders. Duane is pulled back into Thalia’s orbit in part by entropy and perhaps his lack of imagination.

“For much of his life Thalia had mostly depressed Duane, but lately he had developed a kind of tolerance for it. Maybe it was just that as the funeral bell came closer to tolling for him he felt a tendency to linger in what had been, or maybe still was, home.” [P 24]

His very rich wife from “When the Light Goes”, Annie, is now his ex-wife. The super rich K.K. Slater has purchased an enormous plot of land for a recovery ranch for the black rhino. Duane acts as an unofficial advisor to K.K. advising her how to become part of the town, knowing that they will never accept her. If you weren’t born in Thalia, you are an outsider. Even Duane’s wife of 30 years or more was never fully accepted because she moved there as a child. 

“I am worried,” Duane said. “What I know is that Thalia isn’t interested in changing as much as K.K. wants it to change.” [p 181]

One night after a splendid dinner on the second floor of K.K.’s new home – the renovated old town motel – Duane is reminded how he is caught in the middle of the two sides. No one from town acknowledged his wave when he entered K.K.’s home. Later, 

“When they got up to leave Duane saw that the crowd  [watching the dinner party] in the parking lot of the Kwik-Sack had  grown. There were maybe twenty-five people there, and what was wrong with the picture was that he ought to have been one of the crowd at the Kwik-Sack, not one of the people eating snail’s eggs and drinking brandy on K.K. Slater’s penthouse with Honor Carmichael.” [p 184]

The rich don’t get off much better in McMurtry’s story. When things get a little tough, or when they tire of their pet project, they are apt to just leave on a moment’s notice. Annie divorces Duane in a short phone call when she finds another plaything. We are held hostage by our surroundings:

“She [K.K.]  was no more to blame for being born rich than the watchers in the Kwik-Sack were for being born poor, or being brought up ignorant.” [p 195]

This is a sad novel; everyone except his long-time friend Bobby Lee dies and the meth epidemic is one of the few thriving industries in the area. Layered on top of the tension Duane realizes that he no longer has a purpose in life. Most everything he considers doing to improve himself, including enrolling in a college course, don’t happen. 

This is a bleak view on small town Texas life. To get a good idea of this small town featured in seven of McMurtry’s novels, go to Google Maps and search for Archer City and scroll around earth view and street view. But it’s a view that McMurtry well understands having been born and raised there – Thalia’s prototype. Starting with Horseman Pass By – adapted for film as Hud – through Rhino Ranch, McMurtry has written about Thalia for 48 years:1961 – 2009. McMurtry’s writing of the  Duane Moore story spans 43 years:

  • The Last Picture Show: 1966
  • Texasville: 1989
  • Duane’s Depressed: 1999
  • When the Light Goes: 2007
  • Rhino Ranch: 2009

I am put off by the opening conversations between Duane and at least three young women who blatantly come-on to him. Now, I’m not a prude; I just don’t think it is realistic. The writing of Rhino Ranch is demonstrative of McMurtry’s changing style over the years. This is a short novel composed of short chapters; averaging about 4 pages/chapter with some chapters less than a page long. On the one hand I feel cheated by the lack of long passages and chapters of events and scenery – think the long section of Gus McCrae chasing after Blue Duck to rescue Lorena. On the other, the brief chapters serve to move the pace along. 

Regardless of the shortcomings I’ve loved reading McMurtry’s novels since a boss of mine – Tom Lloyd – introduced him to me in 1976. I love his writing style, which comes up to a subject from the side instead of straight on – usually with a sense of humor. A small example is when Bobby Lee catches a large bass when he and Duane are fishing one day. It turns out to be very big news in the region. Instead of saying something direct like “this was big news in the area” McMurtry writes:

“The reaction of the press left little doubt that big bass were newsworthy in the Possum Kingdom area.” [P 21]

Don’t read this as a one-off. Start with “The Last Picture Show” and move forward through the series until you get tired of it. For what it’s worth here are my favorite Larry McMurtry novels; they serve as a great introduction to his wonderful storytelling.

  1. Lonesome Dove. His Pulitzer Prize winner.
  2. Terms of Endearment
  3. Horseman Pass By
  4. The Last Picture Show
  5. Cadillac Jack – not one of his most famous but a personal favorite

If you’ve made it this far, take a look at my initial – and quite different – impression of the novel when I first read it in 2009.

When The Light Goes

Author: Larry McMurtry
Copyright: 2007
Type: Fiction
Finished: April 27, 2020

Rating: ★★★

Image from Amazon

Years or even decades pass between the Thalia stories of “The Last Picture Show”, “Texasville”, and “Duane’s Depressed” but only 2 weeks have passed between the previous events and “When The Light Goes”. (However, the books were published 8 years apart). Duane is back from his trip to Egypt to see the pyramids and is underwhelmed by his return to Thalia. 

“…and yet, in a mere two weeks, Thalia had seemed to have become bleaker, hotter, dustier, and more sparsely peopled than it had been the day he left.” [Loc 440]

“Not only had he outlived his own wife, and Ruth Popper – it seemed to Duane that he had sort of outlived the town of Thalia itself.” [Loc 442]

Later, he briefly returns to his cabin where he got the solitude he craved in “Duane’s Depressed”:

“When he came to his cabin he felt so heavy that he didn’t even go in. The cabin had been his refuge and his peace for more than two years. It was the one place where he felt calm, safe and functional, deeply at ease. But now it just looked like a dusty, empty frame cabin, on a rocky hill. The moral, if there was a moral, was that no one place was sufficient for all the stages of his life. His needs, like the needs of most people, changed and varied.”[Loc 1679] 

Duane wants to restart his therapy with Honor Carmichael but that professional relationship turns into a friendly – putting it mildly – relationship. Duane soon realizes that part of his inability to do much is not only depression but a bad heart. He realizes he has to give up biking and walking and get back into a pickup truck for the first time in years. Duane’s need is for relationship. He and Annie Cameron – the young geologist consultant his son Dickie hired for the oil business – forge a bond that slowly becomes romantic. This relationship both threatens his life – he doesn’t want to have heart surgery until she leaves – and saves it.

This novel and “Duane’s Depressed” seem deeply autobiographical to be. Larry McMurtry had heart surgery in 1991 and became severely depressed. I remember reading that McMurtry felt like someone else was living in his body after his surgery. Duane feels the same way.

“In Duane’s view he had only survived the operation in a technical sense – someone lived and breathed within his body but was it he? He never again felt that he was quite who he had been…” [Loc 1928]

I have a few quibbles with the novel. In the previous novel Duane was detached from the oil business, leaving it to Dickie to run. And yet, the first place he stops when he comes back to Thalia from his vacation is the office. That doesn’t add up. In addition, the opening line of the book – spoken by  Annie  Cameron – would never, ever be the first  thing a woman would say to a man she doesn’t know.

This novel is a nice example of how McMurtry’s writing style evolved over the years (he had been writing for 46 years at this point). His books of the mid 1980’s – “Lonesome Dove” and “Texasville” are expansive with many characters. As he gets into the 21st century, the novels are shorter with fewer characters. In fact, it seemed to me that some of his later short works were more the result of a business commitment than a passion.

While this is a fine book, it is best read as part of the Duane Moore, series. Now I’m off to read the final book of the series: “Rhino Ranch”. 

Cook date: April 25, 2020

A couple of months ago Carla made a curry. It was quite nice and I realized I don’t cook much in the way of Asian cuisine. My palate leans more to southwest and Mexican cooking. I think the last time I made anything remotely related to Asian food was when I joined in the pressure cooker butter chicken craze in December 2018. Somewhere along the line I stumbled across a recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala in the pressure cooker. The recipe had been sitting on the corner of my desk for I don’t know how long. Of course with The Rona [Corona/COVID-19 virus] we have been cooking even more at home and we wanted some variety since it is said to be the spice of life.

Once I re-read the pressure cooker recipe I was wary of scorching. There is only ½ cup chicken broth and a can of diced tomatoes. I’ve read that depending on tomatoes as the liquid in the pressure cooker can lead to problems. Sure enough, a few people commented that they got the dreaded “BURN” message on their pressure cooker. I called an audible and switched to TheKitchn slow cooker version [recipe here]. It had the same ingredients, but called for ½ pound more boneless/skinless chicken thighs than I had. We’ll make do.

Chicken Tikka Masala ingredients.

I prepared the spices and loved the unfamiliar smell.

Chicken Tikka Masala flavor bomb. Ginger, garlic, garam masala, cumin, coriander, and tumeric root.

The 1-inch cubed chicken pieces go into the slow cooker insert with yogurt and salt. Raw chicken is gross – I’ll spare you the picture. While that marinates we sauté the onions, then add the spices, and the diced tomatoes.

Chicken Tikka Masala sauté ingredients.

I drained the diced tomatoes. This resulted in an incredibly thick “sauce” though I don’t think that describes it. The recipe calls on simmering the sauce for a bit while deglazing the pan. I used some of the drained liquid from the tomatoes to do the deglazing.

Then it all goes into the slow cooker for 4 hours on high. When the time got down to 1 hour left I started some jasmine rice.

Chicken Tikka Masala after 4 hours in the pressure cooker.

It smelled delish. The last step is to add ¾ cup of cream, half-and-half, or coconut milk. We were all in with the cream. It’s amazing how it changes the color of the dish. I discovered that a few weeks ago with this amazing pasta bolognese so I was prepared.

Chicken Tikka Masala – ready to serve.

Our youngest son did some shopping for us – he is so sweet – and picked us up a few pieces of naan. Rice and bread.

Dinner is served

Chicken Tikka Masala with jasmine rice and nann.
Chicken Tikka Masala with jasmine rice and nann.

It was very good – I’ll make it again for sure – though it didn’t have as intense a flavor as I thought it would based on the smell. Maybe that was because the garam masala I used was a batch I made in December 2018 for that butter chicken. I may add ½ teaspoon of fish sauce some time during the cook to give it an umami boost. Don’t fret, it won’t make it taste like fish.

Rating: ★★★. 3 out of 5 stars. Perfect for home cooking, though maybe not for company unless I can get a bit more flavor next time.

Duane’s Depressed

Author: Larry McMurtry
Copyright: 1999
Type: Fiction
Finished: April 23, 2020

Rating: ★★★

Image from Amazon

The novel opens a few years after the end of “Texasville” when Duane is 62. He comes home one afternoon, puts his pickup key in an old cracked cup and starts to walk everywhere. Everywhere. This is beyond strange in a small, rural Texas town. His wife, Karla, doesn’t understand and wastes no time letting him know her opinion.   Duane walks away from his home to mostly live in his small cabin a few miles away.

“The process of change that began when he had locked his pickup and put the keys in the old chipped coffee cup was more serious than he had supposed. He hadn’t been just walking for amusement: he had been walking away from his life.”[p 89]

And later he realizes his walking might be more:

“It wasn’t merely a walking away that he was involved in.k He might also be walking toward a new life – or, at least, acquiring a new attitude.”[p 210]

The book is divided into three “books” or sections: The Walker and His Family, The Walker and His Doctor, and The Walker and Marcel Proust. I was annoyed with Duane, Karla, and the passel of kids and grandkids in the first section. It’s all such a mess.

“The whole household took the line of least resistance, where the children were concerned: never spanking them for chewing books, never demanding that the older children do their homework, never punishing with any severity any of the hundreds of disciplinary lapses that occurred every week. It was a lax household. The children didn’t take their parents seriously, or their grandparents either. Everyone just did as they pleased..” [p 176]

As a result their oldest son was a drug addict, his two daughters attached and unattached themselves from men almost as often as changing socks, and his youngest son just disappeared. No wonder Duane left; but it’s his own fault. 

In the second section Duane realizes he has a problem and goes to see a psychiatrist – another imagined scandal for Karla. Seeing him start to confront his problem  is the most compelling part of the book. It’s pure McMurtry with a man involved with a strong woman. 

[Spoiler alert]

In the final section Duane goes on a voyage of self discovery; he can’t see his psychiatrist until he finishes a Marcel Proust 3,000+ page book. He starts to adjust to his new single life. But Karla is always there:

“At the mention of Karla his own confidence evaporated, his effort carried no conviction. It was as if Karla had inserted herself just in time to prevent him from having any real contact with the one woman he really wanted. She had done it often enough while she was alive, and now she was doing it from the grave.” [p 485]

[End spoiler alert]

This Thalia novel is much more spare in prose and scope than “Texasville”: there are fewer characters. As such it returns to its roots of “The Last Picture Show”. The spareness goes well with the theme of Duane whittling his responsibilities down to himself. While it’s a good novel, I don’t recommend it as a standalone read. Start with its predecessors and then for good measure continue through with “When the Light Goes” and “Rhino Ranch” – which is what I’m doing.


Author: Larry McMurtry
Copyright: 1987
Type: Fiction
Finished: April 12, 2020

Rating: ★★★★

Image from Amazon

Texasville picks up life in the small Texas town of Thalia about 30 years after “The Last Picture Show”. That first novel focused on Sonny, this one has his old best friend Duane in the crosshairs. Duane is an oil man who is going broke thanks to the oil glut in the early 1980s. That pessimism and midlife crisis is the lens of this story. While the novel somewhat focuses on the Texasville celebration  of the Hardtop county centennial celebration, this novel is really more character driven than plot driven.

Duane’s sharp-tongued wife, Karla, and the rest of his loud extended family of kids, grandkids, and even for a while mother-in-law, is the backdrop of the story. 

“On paper, particularly photographic paper, his family looked wonderful. All of them were amazingly photogenic. The disparity between how they looked in pictures and how they behaved in real life was a subject for much thought, and Duane had given it not a little in the many long days when the phone rang only once or twice. His conclusion was that the camera lied, although Karla claimed it didn’t.” [p 60]

One of McMurtry’s hallmarks is strong women and this novel has them in spades. In addition to Karla, who constantly criticizes Duane, his glamorous and famous high school sweetheart, Jacy, returns as well. 

“While he was becoming rich, the women in his life had become outspoken. He had stopped being rich, but they had not stopped being outspoken.” [p 8]

At times, the novel swerves into Peyton Place-like plotting with just about every character having an affair. Duane himself has a couple of girlfriends, though his problems take the starch out of him. His interactions with Karla revolve quite a bit around her reaction to his real or imagined girlfriends. 

But those dalliances are outweighed by McMurtry’s brilliant use of dialog. Once he gets his character talking the reader is in for a treat. As I noted in my reading notes about “Rhino Ranch” – the final book in the Thalia chronology – McMurtry’s technique in these novels can be confusing. We start off in the present with a thought or conversation then drop back in time as one of the characters is remembering a conversation that took place months or years ago. This technique works in ways: first, this is how life works; we live in the past, present, and future, so the approach is life like. Second, it works so much better when a story moves forward through talk rather than exposition. As I learned in my English literature courses so many years ago: show, don’t tell. Dialog is more immediate and shows what is happening as opposed to dry narration.

I’m always on the lookout for great metaphors, similes, and imagery in the novels I read. This does not disappoint.

“Silence spread like a winter cloud across the Dairy Queen.” [p 256

“Duane felt his anger rise more rapidly. It was as if he had poured beer in a glass too quickly.”[p 271]

I love his extended metaphor of his life and midlife crisis:

“Everything, it seemed, had been washed too many times, had worn too thin. His friendships and his little romances all seemed sad and fragile to him.  They had once been the comfortable and reliable fabric that was his life. But the fabric became too old to bear the weight of all the bodies and personalities and needs of the people who tossed and turned on it. At some point a toenail or an elbow had poked through, and it was all tearing.” [p 489]

Even though I read this book years ago, I couldn’t put it down on this second go round. Even without the plot-driven elements that make up his masterpiece “Lonesome Dove” the pacing here is brisk and sure.  It may not be McMurtry’s best work – go to “Lonesome Dove”, “The Last Picture Show”, “Terms of Endearment”, and “Horseman Pass By” for his best – it is a fun read. 

I started the Thalia series by watching “The Last Picture Show” on TV a few weeks ago. Rather than rereading it after the movie, I launched into this novel and plan to follow up with “Duane’s Depressed.”, “When The Light Goes”, and “Rhino Ranch”.  In addition to keeping up with the interesting characters it will be a spotlight on how McMurtry’s storytelling changed over the years.