Larry McMurtry, Novelist of the American West, Dies at 84

Larry McMurtry, Novelist of the American West, Dies at 84

He moved to Washington and opened his first Booked Up store with a partner in 1971, selling rare books. He opened the much larger Booked Up in Archer City in 1988 and owned and operated it until his death.

In a 1976 profile of Mr. McMurtry in The New Yorker, Calvin Trillin observed his book buying skills. “Larry knows which shade of blue on a copy of ‘Native Son’ indicates a first print and which does not,” Trillin wrote. “He knows the exact value of books of poetry by Robert Lowell that Robert Lowell may now have forgotten to write.”

While much of Mr. McMurtry’s writings dealt with the West or its Texan heritage, he also wrote novels about Washington (“Cadillac Jack”), Hollywood (“Somebody’s Darling”) and Las Vegas (“The Desert Rose”). In addition to an omnipresent melancholy, there was a comic Brio in his best books. He has been recognized for his ability to create memorable and believable female characters, including the self-centered widow Aurora Greenway in “Terms of Endearment,” played by Shirley MacLaine in the film version.

In the novel, Aurora is at the forefront with her appetite. “Only a saint can live with me and I cannot live with a saint,” she says. “Older men have nothing to do with me and younger men are not interested.”

“I think the only gift that led me to a career in fiction was the ability to invent characters that readers would bond with,” McMurtry once wrote. “My characters move them, which is why the same characters move them when they meet them on the screen.”

His early novels were generally well-reviewed, although Thomas Lask, who wrote on The Times Book Review of “The Last Picture Show,” said, “Mr. McMurtry isn’t exactly a typewriter virtuoso. “Other reviewers would take up this complaint. Mr McMurtry wrote too much, some said, and quantity exceeded quality. “I crash 10 pages a day,” boasted Mr. McMurtry in Books.

Some felt that Mr. McMurtry tarnished memories of some of his best books, including The Last Picture Show, Lonesome Dove, and Terms of Endearment, by writing sequels to them, sequels that sometimes change transformed into tetralogies or even quintets. It was hard to remember reading his “Berrybender Narratives,” a frontier soap opera that spanned four books, the writer who delivered “Lonesome Dove.”