Larry McMurtry, American Western novelist, dies at 84


Mr. McMurtry wrote his first novels while teaching English at Texas Christian University, Rice University, George Mason College, and American University. However, he disliked teaching and left it behind as his career progressed.

He moved to the Washington area and with a partner opened his first Booked Up store in 1971, dedicated to rare books. He opened the much larger Booked Up in Archer City in 1988 and owned and operated it until his death.

In a 1976 profile of Mr. McMurtry in The New Yorker, Calvin Trillin observed his book-buying skills. “Larry knows which shade of blue cover on a copy of ‘Native Son’ indicates a first impression and which does not,” wrote Trillin. “He knows the exact value of Robert Lowell’s books of poetry that Robert Lowell may now have forgotten to write.”

While much of Mr. McMurtry’s writing was about the West or his Texas heritage, he also wrote novels about Washington (“Cadillac Jack”), Hollywood (“Someone’s Love”), and Las Vegas (“The Desert Rose “). There was a comic verve in his best books, along with an ever-present melancholy. He was praised for his ability to create memorable and credible female characters, including the self-centered widow Aurora Greenway in “Terms of Endearment,” played by Shirley MacLaine in the film version.

In the novel, Aurora talks openly about her appetites. “Only a saint could live with me and I cannot live with a saint,” he says. “Older men are not dependent on me and younger men are not interested.”

“I think the only gift that led me to a career in fiction was the ability to invent characters that readers connect with,” Mr. McMurtry once wrote. “My characters move them, that’s why those same characters also move them when they meet them on the screen.”

His early novels were generally well reviewed, although Thomas Lask, writing about “The Last Picture Show” in The Times Book Review, said, “Mr. McMurtry is not exactly a typewriter virtuoso.” Other critics would pick up on that complaint. Mr. McMurtry wrote too much, some said, and the quantity exceeded the quality. “I skip 10 pages a day,” McMurtry boasted in “Books.”

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