To call “The Last Picture Show” depressing would be too broad. It starts on a down note and, spoiler warning, ends on another, with a series of low points in between.
Larry McMurtry’s writing style is dry on the surface, but once I was drawn into his tale, I couldn’t put it down. And thanks to McMurtry, I’ll never look at rural teenage boys the same way again. You can’t unread that.
It crosses a year in the life of Sonny, Duane and Jaci and the adults they interact with, oftentimes inappropriately.
It pulls back the curtains and shines a harsh light on what growing up really means. The tale hides nothing of the realities of life — societal class never ends, everyone has a dirty little secret and rumor ruins. But it also shows that friendships, if you’re willing to work at it, can survive a wallop of abuse.
The film, which features the amazing Cloris Leachman as Ruth Popper, the football coach’s very unsatisfied wife, and Cybill Shepherd’s film debut, is great. Much of the dialogue is lifted straight from the book. It reminded me of “The Graduate” in that sense — if you’ve read the book, you know the exact film and vice versa.
One of the most striking scenes for me is toward the end. Sonny attends a football game the fall after his graduation. He is a forgotten piece, faded into the background, his glory days already gone.
Perhaps it touches me a little closer these days as I lose weight and once again fit into that letterman jacket that made me a tiny bit of someone in high school. I was so involved in theater and music and proudly wore that jacket everywhere. It told those who saw me that I had done
The fall after my graduation, I visited to attend that year’s musical. The hustle and bustle swirled around me as I popped backstage to say hi to my friends. Everyone was friendly, but the buzz in the air no longer belonged to me. The world had turned and tossed me somewhere else.
I’ve yet to rediscover that lost electricity. Of course, I’ve found new passions, but nothing has ever been as exciting as a live show and the edge it puts you on.
And I think that realization is what this book conveys — that life will blow you down the proverbial road, so enjoy those special moments while you’ve got them because the next ones might not compare.
This winter, after losing 100 pounds, I have one heavy coat that really fits — my black-and-gold letterman jacket. (I’m not buying a coat for one year when I have one in the closet.) I wear it to remind me of a time when I felt like somebody as I rediscover who I’d like to be as I head toward that big 3-0.