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.
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.