I have seen the movie of this maybe two times, but I think more than once. And so I was a little leery going in given how sad and potentially maudlin this book might end up being. But I always forget well Larry McMurtry refuses to create melodrama (even in his silly books) and how infused with complication and complexity his books are. He remains a very solid writer in general, and he’s very good and spying on domestic relations with a real focus on their ends and outs.
This story contains what the movie contains, but then also has 250 more pages of material. We begin with a conversation between Emma Horton, who is 22 at the start, telling her mother, Aurora Greenway, that she’s pregnant. Her mother, eternal victim, plays victim. Emma is married to Flap Johnson, a recent PhD working on a book on Shelley and trying to decide if he wants to be married or not. In his ambivalence, we find Aurora reminding Emma of all her past prospects (whether she’s right or not) and Aurora looking at her own prospects, a gaggle of eclectic male suitors who helplessness against Aurora’s games is inverse to her affection for them.
The book also focuses on the lives and dramas of a few other ancillary characters in a study of modern love and commitment (ala 1975). The book takes several leaps in time moving from Emma being pregnant, to her children in their early years, to their later years as the marriage is falling apart officially, when Emma is diagnosed with cancer — what we are familiar with ala the movie. So the book has a much broader and balanced scope than the movie (and I am not even critiquing the movie; it has to make its own choices).