Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Duane's Depressed

Constant readers often connect an image, memory, or idea from one book to another book, and sometimes several.

  A pastor from one of our local Methodist churches stopped by the shop the other day and bought a two-volume set of Remembrances of Things Past by Marcel Proust. I struggled not to chuckle because I connected Proust to a joke Norman Maclean told in his book, A River Runs Through It.

  Norman's dad, a Congregational pastor with strong negative opinions about Norman's "inter-faith" dating, asked him in warning, "Well, son, you do know that a Methodist is just a Baptist who can read, don't you?

  Remembrances of Things Past (in French, A la recherché du temps predue) is one of the great literary masterpieces produced in the 20th century, and at 1,300 plus pages replete with 600-word sentences, it is all the proof anyone needs that Methodists certainly can read. I recall my own several-months-long battle to finish it, along with here and now admiration for our local cleric and his erudite ambitions.

  I strung these two book-related connections together like pearls on a string with a third book I was reading just as Proust and my Methodist left the shop. It was Larry McMurtry's Duane's Depressed, the final book of his Texasville Trilogy, which is about a man who -- Ta Da -- is reading Remembrances of Things Past on the advice of his psychiatrist.

  Duane's Depressed is not McMurtry's best book, but it is a book I love. I have read it more than a dozen times. It is about Duane Moore who, in his 60th year, parks his pick-up truck under the carport and starts walking. In rural Texas, pedestrianism is an unusual occupation and Duane's adamant refusal to use motorized transportation is taken by his family and neighbors as a sign of mental illness.

  Duane's actual problem is longing for a different way of living. He dimly comprehends that he's spent his life racing from one crisis to another. He has begun to obscurely realize he has responded to life rather than lived it. And all that he knows for certain is that his futile racing and responding has been done in the cab of a pick-up. When Duane throws the keys to his truck away he assumes control of his life for the first time, but he is left to figure out what it is he is supposed to control.

  McMurtry fans will have seen Duane on the brink of adulthood in The Last Picture Show, as a father and husband in Texasville where he is -- like most of us -- utterly bewildered by the messiness of middle age. In Duane's Depressed, we see Duane find out that life means treating every event in each day of the 29,000 days we are given as special and sometimes even holy.

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