Long considered to be the brilliant dark horse of literary nonfiction, Pulitzer Prize-winning Larry McMurtry delivers a searing and reflective exploration of what paradise is, whether it exists, and how different it is from life in his Texas hometown.
In 1999, Larry McMurtry, whose wanderlust had been previously restricted to the roads of America, set off for a trip to the paradise of Tahiti and the South Sea Islands in an old-fashioned tub of a cruise boat, at a time when his mother was slipping toward a paradise of her own. Opening up to her son in her final days, his mother makes a stunning revelation of a previous marriage and sends McMurtry on a journey of an entirely different kind.
Vividly, movingly, and with infinite care, McMurtry paints a portrait of his parents' marriage against the harsh, violent landscape of west Texas. It is their roots—laced with overtones of hard work, bitter disappointment, and the Puritan ethic—that McMurtry challenges by traveling to Tahiti, a land of lush sensuality and easy living. With fascinating detail, shrewd observations, humorous pathos, and unforgettable characters, he begins to answer some of the questions of what paradise is, whether it exists, and how different it is from life in his hometown of Archer City, Texas.
Prolific Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, memoirist, screenplay writer and bookstore owner McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, etc.) took a 1999 cruise to "paradise" Tahiti and the South Sea Islands "in order to think and write about" his parents, Hazel and Jeff McMurtry. The couple "saw the sea only once" during their 43-year marriage in Archer County, Tex., about which their son writes, "Many people like Archer County, and a few people love it, but no one would be likely to think it an earthly paradise." The lush landscape of Tahiti and neighboring islands contrasts sharply with his parents' hardscrabble North Texas life. Listening "to the gentle slosh of the Pacific" in the lagoon beneath his raised bungalow, he recalls the day in 1954, as he packed to leave for college, when his mother startled him with the revelation that she had previously been married. Aboard the Aranui, he watches his shipmates ("world-class shoppers") while making occasional attempts to phone his dying mother back in Texas. He closely observes his surroundings (the Marquesas has "an end-of-the-world feel," while the Ua Pou flea market provides "a good illustration of the reach of global capitalism and its ability to turn the whole world into a species of mall"). As his odyssey ends, he wants "to turn right around and go back to Nuku Hiva." Readers of this excellent travelogue, abounding with literary references from Henry James to Kerouac, will likely return to the book often to reread their favorite passages of McMurtry's meditative prose. Map.