First things first. Larry McMurtry writing a 195-page novel? The master of the meandering epic novel penning a story that can be digested in one sitting?
There are only two ways to reconcile all this. Either think of "When the Light Goes" as the final "chapter" of a four-part series that started with "The Last Picture Show." Or think of it as a short story.
Despite all the shots this book has taken from critics, it's still McMurtry at the computer keyboard. The characters seem all-too-real. Whether you like him or not, you feel for main character Duane Moore. The wit and satire are as omnipresent as the dusty Texas landscape. And McMurtry can take you to the scene, the dying town of Thalia, Texas.
But there's something missing here -- the McMurtry experience.
Reading Larry McMurtry is one of our literary treats. You pick up a book that qualifies as an exercise in weightlifting, it's so heavy, and you live with the characters for days, even weeks. Here, it's mere hours.
As this reviewer got past page 100 -- that's just setting the scene in most McMurtry novels -- each succeeding page and quickie chapter brought on an impending sense that the end of the book was near.
This books tells the story of the last days of Moore, now 64, back from Egypt, bored to death, trying to sort through his feelings for both his gay psychiatrist and the pert, sexy young geologist, Annie Cameron, who works for his oil company. That's the story, and although there's too much graphic description of a 64-year-old's bedroom antics with an inexperienced woman in her 20s, it's still a small-town Texas story.
Nobody does that better than McMurtry.
A dying small town and the boredom inside it are the themes here.
"What are you thinking, Duane?" another character asks him. "I know you're thinking something."
"I was thinking something," he replies. "I was thinking we've all been in this town too long."
As the author writes of his main character, "He spent more and more time doing less and less."
And no one, in print, can portray dry, hot and dusty the way McMurtry does.
"The heat was still all around him, like an invisible tent," he writes.
Still, reading this book was like going to the Regal Cinemas and seeing only the trailers. Or, going to a Sabres game and seeing a shootout with no game.
It was good while it lasted. But the reader is left wanting more.
Gene Warner is a News reporter.
When the Light Goes
By Larry McMurtry
Simon & Schuster
195 pages, $24