Something about the early 2000s and about male writers born in the 1930s that wants to write a biography of one’s parents.
I think about the John Williams novel Stoner, about a kid who grows up in rural Missouri on a farm, gets sent to college to learn about agronomy and economics, falls in love with Medieval literature and never looks back. There’s that kind of maybe guilt, maybe sense of responsibility built into these kinds of biographies. And I can think of quite a few of them: there’s this one, Richard Russo’s Elsewhere, Richard Ford’s Between Them, Philip Roth’s Patrimony, and I am sure others.
Larry McMurtry finds himself in Tahiti in his 60s, and while he’s also quite occupied with thoughts of Paul Gauguin, who spread disease, art, and abuse across the country in the late 1800s, as well as Melville, who positioned his first novel Typee on the island, McMurtry can’t help but think about his parents as well, young farmers from Archer Co, Texas, who never really left Texas, but gave their son enough of a life for him to go to college, write novels, write movies, and travel endlessly. It’s less a love letter to them so much as a reckoning of how little of the world they experienced because they happened to get together to start a family in the worst depression the country saw in one of the worst places hit by it.
In addition to this, it’s a relatively interesting, only slightly problematic travel narrative about a visit to Tahiti.