The Last Picture Show ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Larry McMurtry’s 1966 novel, The Last Picture Show, is set in the fictional town of Thalia, Texas, in the 1950s. Thalia sits on the edge of the prairie where it’s windy and dusty and hot. There’s a Main Street with a picture show, a café, a poolhall, and not much else. In the way of small towns everywhere, the people of Thalia don’t have much to do, but there’s always gossip—everybody knows everything about everybody else—and if you happen to be different in some way from the other people in the town, you’d better watch out because they’re coming to get you.
Sonny and Duane are high schoolers and best friends. Sonny is sensitive and Duane is a brawler. They both like to drink and carouse and they don’t have to worry about what their parents think because they are both living on their own, free of family. Even though they’re both still in high school, they don’t let it bother them much. They aren’t much interested in education.
Sonny has an unattractive girlfriend named Charlene Duggs. She’s overweight and already possesses the bitchy qualities of a middle-aged shrew. Everybody who knows Sonny believes he could do better. Sonny secretly envies Duane, who dates the prettiest, most-stylish girl in school, Jacy Farrow. Jacy is self-centered, vain, manipulative, and she doesn’t care who she hurts as long as she gets what she wants. (We’ve all known people like this.)
When the good-ol’-boy football coach enlists Sonny to drive his wife, Ruth, to the clinic, Sonny sees that Ruth seems awfully lonely and unhappy. They begin a sexual affair—she’s forty and he’s seventeen—meeting afternoons in her bedroom while the coach is at school. Ruth experiences a sexual reawakening with Sonny. With the age difference, though, you know someone younger is bound to turn Sonny’s head and when it happens it’s none other than Jacy Farrow, who has broken up with Duane. Forty-year-old Ruth is easy for Sonny to put out of his mind when he can have Jacy.
There are other interesting characters in the novel, including Sam the Lion, a sort of father figure to everybody—he owns the poolhall, picture show and café; Genevieve, the world-weary waitress at the café whom the boys secretly lust after; Lois Farrow, Jacy’s smart-mouthed mother, who gave her husband so much hell he just had to go out and make a million dollars just to please her.
The Last Picture Show is a slice of small-town life and also a growing-up, coming-of-age story. It’s about change, the good kind and the bad kind that throws you for a loop and makes you wish you had never been born. It’s a breezy 245 pages that you can read without taxing your brain too much. And who can forget the 1971 movie version (two acting Oscars) of the novel, a good example of how to make a movie from a book and do it right.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp