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”.