Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cadillac Jack (1982)

(Requested by reader C.A.)

Larry McMurtry is a writer much beloved in Hollywood circles and for good reason, reminiscent of the careers enjoyed by Elmore Leonard or Willam Goldman. Various of McMurtry's novels have provided the basis for the movies Hud, The Last Picture Show, and Terms of Endearment, plus he wrote the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain. His biggest achievement, literally, may be Lonesome Dove, which sprawls across 800+ pages and was made into a TV miniseries of 6+ hours. Cadillac Jack may or may not be among his best (I've only read Lonesome Dove besides this) but it has many of his most familiar themes, even if it didn't become a movie, and it's well done. McMurtry has always been basically a writer of Westerns, the genre trappings are familiar, but with the great idea of updating the tone and stories to the 20th century and beyond. Accordingly, Cadillac Jack is set mostly in the Washington, D.C., of Ronald Reagan's first term. The times, contemporaneous with the writing, are reflected partly in the free and easy sexual charge that accompanies much of the action. Jack McGriff has earned the sobriquet of the title by his outsize personality and by the "pearl-colored" Cadillac he drives around in. Formerly a rodeo performer, he is now a savvy antiques dealer with a natural talent for it. He's 33, with two ex-wives and many more former girlfriends (a few of which are made in the span of the novel)—a kind of lost soul, but not really, and in any event amiable and easygoing enough about it. Not a lot of plot to this one, but novels and stories where not a lot happens are high on my list, and plot isn't McMurtry's strong point anyway, which is more on the order of mood. Just so, Cadillac Jack is pretty good about casting its spells. McGriff hangs around D.C., sleeps with some women and lusts after others, takes time for feeling sad about things now and then, and sorts out his life's work piecemeal. In some ways, it's a kind of post-Western crossed with the classic novel of manners; there's some sense McGriff is searching for a wife. Everyone is interesting or intriguing, more or less, and there are various shades of maneuver in pursuing who he will march down the aisle for the third time, if indeed he's going to march anyone. McMurtry was in his mid-40s at the time he wrote this, and that's how McGriff feels too. I thought he was a little bit unbelievable as a 33-year-old (a distractingly fraught age in fiction). It's a novel about a midlife crisis essentially. McGriff is likable and that redeems most of the minor misfires. McMurtry is also a very quiet and poised writer, and it's that quality that makes this novel worth looking into, even as it reminds me again that I really need to get to some more of his stuff.

In case it's not at the library.

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