Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Late Child

The Late Child

3.3 3
by Larry McMurtry

See All Formats & Editions

An unforgettable addition to his widely acclaimed body of work, The Late Child is Larry McMurtry's tender, funny, and poignant sequel to The Desert Rose. McMurtry delivers another rich cast of characters -- and a heartfelt, bittersweet story that unfolds on the open road, in one woman's search for strength, understanding, and hope.

Harmony is the


An unforgettable addition to his widely acclaimed body of work, The Late Child is Larry McMurtry's tender, funny, and poignant sequel to The Desert Rose. McMurtry delivers another rich cast of characters -- and a heartfelt, bittersweet story that unfolds on the open road, in one woman's search for strength, understanding, and hope.

Harmony is the optimistic, resilient Las Vegas ex-showgirl who returns home one day to the news that her beloved daughter has died, in New York, of AIDS. She manages to stay afloat, buoyed by her precocious five-year-old son, Eddie, and her two outspoken sisters as they set forth on a journey across the country, seeking answers about her daughter's death. From Nevada to New York to Oklahoma, the eccentrics Harmony and her entourage meet nudge them closer to an inner peace with life, and a way to find hope in the future. Alive with inventive storytelling and honest emotion, The Late Child is a warm, enriching experience that celebrates the unique relationship between mother and child.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
McMurtry's bittersweet 19th novel marks the welcome return of Harmony, the navely optimistic showgirl from The Desert Rose (1983). Now 47, Harmony is working in a Las Vegas recycling plant, retired from her reign as the most beautiful showgirl ever seen on the Strip (she dated Elvis and Sinatra, but slept only with Dan Duryea). Harmony's relentlessly hopeful take on life is shattered when she receives a letter from New York City explaining that her dancer daughter, Pepper, has died of AIDS. Not even the arrival of her sisters, Neddie and Pat (the latter a veteran of three trips to Masters and Johnson for sex addiction) can ease her overwhelming anguish. Fearing that grief might literally drive her insane, Harmony packs all her possessions into a U-Haul and, with her sisters and her precocious five-year-old son, Eddie, begins the drive home to Tarwater, Okla. Along the way, Eddie rescues an abandoned dog-whom they christen ``Iggy Pop''-from a Hopi reservation, and the U-Haul is destroyed in a fall into the Canyon de Chelly. This necessitates a detour to New York City, where the group is carried off to the seedy No-Tel Motel in Jersey City by three Arab-immigrant hustlers. They meet Pepper's female lover, temporarily adopt a homeless teenage hooker and visit the Statue of Liberty, where Iggy Pop survives disaster with a seagull and makes the cover of People magazine. When Harmony finally makes her way to Tarwater, she finds her family laden with troubles so perilous she must turn her grief to strength if she's to save them and herself. Raucous, unexpected and downright quirky, this is McMurtry at his powerful best. BOMC alternate. (May)
Library Journal
McMurtry returns to the territory he mapped out in Terms of Endearment.
Ronald Reed
May be the best pure love story Larry McMurtry has written…
Fort Worth Star—Telegram
Peggy Payne
Deftly told. Wildly imaginative, with quick, sharp characterizations…Delicious in detail from start to finish.
Dallas Morning News
From the Publisher
Ronald Reed Fort Worth Star-Telegram May be the best pure love story he has written.

Malcolm Jones Jr. Newsweek Intensely lively...Harmony holds us even tighter than she did in The Desert Rose...In The Late Child, the former showgirl...achieves heroic proportions.

Peggy Payne The Dallas Morning News Deftly told. Wildly imaginative, with quick, sharp characterizations...delicious in details from start to finish.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Sold by:
Sales rank:
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Part Three of Book One

Juliette didn't even take the time to change out of her tux; she was determined not to leave Harmony alone in her distress. In no time she had taken Harmony inside, picked the glass shards out of her hand, and disinfected the cuts.

"Harmony, first things first," Juliette said, when she saw the shredded feet. She did a much better job on Harmony's feet than Harmony had done, too—Eddie had underestimated the Band-Aids that would be required. It took eleven in all, and even then Juliette wasn't really content.

"You ought to go to the emergency room and get stitches for one or two of those cuts, but I guess it can wait," Juliette said. She covered the couch with towels, in case the Band-Aids didn't completely do their job. Then she made Harmony tea, in the largest mug she could find; she got a box of Kleenex out of the bathroom and put the box by Harmony, on the couch. Harmony wasn't really crying hard, but she was leaking, twice Juliette saw a line of tears move straight down Harmony's cheeks and puddle momentarily at the corners of her mouth. The sight of tears gathered at the corners of Harmony's mouth touched something in Juliette—she cried a little, too. The fact that she herself was childless had always pained her; it seemed a failure. Most humans managed to mate, but not her.

Now it occurred to Juliette that maybe childlessness wasn't such a terrible fate, after all; what Harmony was going through, and would keep on going through for the rest of her life, was undoubtedly a lot worse.

"Harmony, we better start making calls—we should probably inform your family first," Juliette said. She got a mug of tea for herself—the only lemon in Harmony's refrigerator was pretty runty but at least it was a lemon, and then she brought the Portaphone over to the couch and pulled up a chair for herself.

"If you'll just tell me the numbers I'll dial and then you can talk," she said.

"I guess I ought to call Gary first," Harmony said. Gary was her best friend—maybe by now he was her only real friend—and he had known Pepper all her life. Gary was sort of an honorary uncle; he had always thought Pepper was totally beautiful. It was going to break his heart when he heard that Pepper was dead.

"If I were you I'd call your family first," Juliette said.

"I know you don't like Gary, he does get bitchy at times," Harmony said, remembering that Gary and Juliette had had words one time, at a party Harmony had been attempting to give. It had been Eddie's fifth-birthday party; Eddie's birthday parties were about the only parties Harmony attempted to give. From Eddie's point of view the parties were a big success, but from Harmony's point of view things were more complicated. It was plain that Juliette wasn't crazy about calling Gary first.

"No, Gary and I made up, we're civil," Juliette said. "I just think you ought to call your family first—it would be more appropriate."

Harmony suddenly realized what Juliette meant: she meant she should call her family in Oklahoma first—her two sisters, her brother, her mother and father. That was the family Juliette was talking about. Juliette was from Iowa herself—of course she would know what was appropriate and what wasn't in times of grief.

"I don't see them very often—they weren't real close to Pepper," Harmony said. But then she took the Portaphone from Juliette and without thinking about it another second called her sister Neddie. Her sister's real name was Grace, but for some reason she had always been called Neddie. It had been so many months since she had called her sister that Harmony was a little surprised to find the number still in her head. Maybe it was because Neddie, who lived on a farm near Tarwater, Oklahoma, had had the same phone number all her adult life—in the same period of time Harmony had had at least thirty phone numbers.

"It's three A.M., who's calling?" Neddie asked; she was always matter-of-fact in phone conversations.

"I'm sorry, Neddie—I'm confused," Harmony said. "My feet are all cut up, and Pepper's dead."

"I'm coming, Sis," Neddie said. "Me and Pat will get ourselves to the airport and be there as soon as we can. What'd the poor child die of?"

Pat was Harmony's other sister's nickname—her real name was Hope. She worked in the bank in Tarwater and had for many years.

"Neddie, she's cremated, that's as far as I got in the letter," Harmony admitted. "The letter's out in the yard. I guess I'll try to read it in the morning."

"If she's dead, she's dead," Neddie said. "It's a tragedy for this family. Have you got a friend with you, hon?"

"Juliette's with me, you met her," Harmony said. "She hasn't even been home to take her tux off—she's here, a foot away."

"Does Eddie know?" Neddie asked.

"No, I was a coward, I didn't tell him," Harmony said. "I just made him macaroni and cheese and put him to bed. It's important that he get a good night's sleep."

"It's important that you get them feet tended to, too," Neddie said, still being matter-of-fact. "We don't need you getting blood poisoning, on top of all this."

"It was just a glass I broke, it had just come out of the dishwasher," Harmony said. Though she had not talked to her sister in a long time, she knew that Juliette had been right and that Neddie, her sister, had been exactly the right person to call. Gary might have gone into hysterics, he was prone to them, though mostly from getting his heart broken by boys he fell in love with who didn't reciprocate. In other kinds of crises Gary was pretty stable, but no one in the whole world, so far as Harmony knew, was as stable as her sister Neddie Haley. Already Harmony had begun to dread the moment when she would have to hang up. Probably Neddie didn't have a Portaphone but Harmony had a fantasy that she did and the two of them just kept talking while Neddie gathered up Pat and got to the airport and flew to Las Vegas and arrived at Harmony's apartment. It was an absurd fantasy, she could never afford to pay for a phone call that long, and anyway Neddie was frugal and would no doubt cut her off at some point even if Portaphones did exist in Tarwater. But it was a comforting fantasy too: if she could just keep her big sister on the line indefinitely maybe the tearing, ripping feeling wouldn't split her apart so badly that she couldn't be a stable mom when Eddie woke up, expecting a waffle and clean clothes to wear to school.

"You better let me call Pat, she's wild in the head these days and there's no telling what she might say if you and her get into it," Neddie advised. It was plain that she was about ready to hang up and start making plane reservations and doing other matter-of-fact things.

"I know she thinks I'm a bad mother, she always has," Harmony said—and it was true, her sister Pat had always disapproved of almost everything she did, particularly her behavior as a mom. When Pat discovered that Harmony had let Pepper go off to New York alone, at the age of seventeen, to dance in a Broadway show, she informed Harmony immediately of her absolute disapproval.

"Pepper's a teenager, she has absolutely no business being alone in a place like New York City," Pat informed her the first time the subject came up.

"How would you know what kind of place New York is? You've never been there," Harmony replied, trying to keep calm. Pat was blunt when she was talking to Harmony—she just treated her like a little sister who couldn't possibly know much. She had hurt Harmony's feelings with her bluntness hundreds of times, over the years.

"You've never been anywhere," Harmony had informed her, at the time. "I wish you wouldn't try to tell me how to raise my daughter. She's in a Broadway show and this is a wonderful opportunity for her."

"Yeah, opportunity to become a drug addict or to get mugged or to get AIDS," Pat said. "I've seen those crack neighborhoods they have up there—they show them on TV."

"I'm sure Pepper doesn't live in a crack neighborhood," Harmony replied, although she had never been in New York either and was not quite as convinced as she would have liked to be that Pepper was living in a safe neighborhood. Really, she didn't know how Pepper lived, other than that she had an address on East Ninth Street. She had plenty of maternal worries herself. Gary had informed her that eight million people lived in New York City—that was too many people even to imagine, and some of them were bound to be unsavory characters. That was a phrase Jackie Bonventre had been fond of before he died—in his view unsavory characters were men who were stingy at the craps tables, ate too much garlic, and got his showgirls pregnant.

But Pat was not convinced by anything Harmony said, and she never had been. When they were teenagers in Oklahoma, Pat had done nothing but try to steal Harmony's boyfriends, what few she managed to have before leaving home at age sixteen. Pat didn't stop stealing boyfriends just because her little sister left home, either—so far she had stolen three husbands from various women in the Tulsa area, and got all of them to marry her. The third one had just dropped dead on a golf course the year before. Harmony was a little surprised that Pat hadn't already got busy and stole a fourth husband.

Neddie, however, had been married all her life to Dick Haley, a farmer. Harmony had only met Dick a few times. He was a stern Baptist who refused to come to a sinful place such as Las Vegas, even though his sister-in-law lived there.

"What about Pat, is she married again yet?" Harmony asked—it was mainly a ruse to keep Neddie on the phone a few more minutes.

"She's working on it," Neddie said. "Pat wasn't meant for the maiden life."

"Neddie, her feelings might be hurt if I don't call her myself—she likes attention," Harmony reminded her sister, though Neddie lived about a mile from Pat and probably didn't need to be reminded.

"Call her if you want to, Harmony, but do it quick," Neddie said. "We got to get cracking right now."

"I'm just afraid she'll say I told you so," Harmony said. "I know she did tell me so but if she tells me she told me so right now I may go crazy—I may anyway, Neddie."

"Well, you lost a child—it's something I ain't had to suffer, thank the Lord, and neither has Pat," Neddie said. "She might suffer it yet though—and I might too. All our kids take dope. They're all just about to the point of being drug addicts."

"Drug addicts?" Harmony said. She wasn't used to thinking of people back home in Oklahoma as drug addicts—much less her sisters' children.

"Yes, and little Deenie has already been in trouble twice for forging her mother's name on checks," Neddie said. "She does it so she can buy drugs for that worthless hulk she's shacked up with."

"Good Lord, she's only about seventeen, isn't she?" Harmony asked, shocked.

"Right, her birthday was last week—you should have sent her a card, hon," Neddie said gently.

"I'm sorry—I know I'm not the best at keeping up family ties," Harmony said, ashamed of herself. Even Pat, despite being disapproving, had never failed to send Pepper and Eddie cards or little presents on their birthdays. The cards and little presents always came just on the right day, too—both Pepper and Eddie had always known that they had aunts who cared. She herself had been shamefully lax; she did mark all her nieces' and nephews' birthdays on the calendar, but then she would forget to turn the pages of the calendar, as the months went by, or forget to check it. Eventually she would always get around to mailing cards and presents—she had Deenie's card in her purse at that moment—but they always drifted in quite a few days late.

"Neddie, I'm going to call Pat myself, I just think it's better—do you think I should call Billy too?" Harmony asked.

"Billy's in jail," Neddie informed her. "He made one too many obscene calls to his old friend Mildred, so they nailed him again."

"Uh-oh," Harmony said.

"Her husband's a dead shot, too," Neddie said. "This is a small town. Married men don't take kindly to having their wives get dirty phone calls in the middle of the night."

"I thought Billy would outgrow all that," Harmony said.

"That's what we've all been hoping," Neddie said. "But Billy's fifty years old and he's still doing it."

"Can't he get counseling?" Harmony asked. It was sad to think of her only brother in jail for making obscene phone calls.

"He's done been to just about every psychiatrist in this part of Oklahoma," Neddie said. "There's got to be a woman somewhere would love Billy and keep him out of trouble, but if there is she sure ain't living in Tarwater."

"He could move out here and be a parking lot attendant," Harmony said. "I know a job that's just come open."

She heard a closet door creak, through the receiver, and knew that Neddie was packing even as she talked.

"What's that mean—did Jimmy leave?" Neddie asked.

"Jimmy left—he went out for cigarettes six hours ago and he isn't back," Harmony said. "He had the going-away look in his eye, Neddie. I guess the tragedy was just too much for him."

"What kind of worthless piece of shit would leave you on the night you got the news that your daughter was dead?" Neddie asked.

"The kind I keep falling in love with," Harmony said. Compared to Pepper's death, Jimmy's departure didn't matter all that much—still, it mattered some. Harmony began to cry so hard that she couldn't talk to Neddie anymore; she had to hang up. It was a lie that she had fallen in love with Jimmy, though; it was not that serious—he was just a man she had brought home for a few months. It was a long time since there had been a man she was serious about; she started counting back through the years, to the last man she had been in love with, but after she had counted back almost fifteen years and was still at zero, zilch, she gave up and let Juliette hand her Kleenex until she cried herself out.

"My sisters are coming, I have to call Pat," Harmony said, listlessly, when she was finally able to stop crying for a few minutes.

"Tell me the number and I'll dial," Juliette said, wondering if she should tell Harmony that Jimmy Bangor had made at least fifty passes at her in the few months he had lived next door. Would it make her feel better, knowing that she was rid of such a scumbag? Or would the knowledge that the man she had lived with for six months was a faithless asshole just make her feel worse?

"Juliette, just go change out of your tux," Harmony said. "I'll be all right for a few minutes."

"Okay. I've got some chicken salad in my fridge, would you like a little?" Juliette asked.

She decided to keep quiet about Jimmy Bangor's fifty passes; Harmony might think she had encouraged the man or something—why take a chance?

"I don't think so, would you please just hurry back?" Harmony asked—she knew Juliette needed to change out of her work clothes but at the sight of her getting ready to go next door Harmony got a bad sinking feeling—she definitely wanted Juliette to hurry back.

When Juliette left, Harmony became so befuddled that she couldn't remember who she had been supposed to call next. Gary came to mind, but there was the factor of Gary and Juliette not being on such good terms. It might not be quite the moment to call Gary. Before she could make up her mind Juliette came back through the door. She had done a really quick change, and she also had a box of Red Zinger tea in her hand.

"Have you called Pat yet?" Juliette asked.

"No, I forgot—that was a real fast change," Harmony said. She felt lucky to have a friend like Juliette, so quick in a time of crisis that she had changed out of her work clothes and come back before Harmony could even think to call her other sister.

"I hope Neddie's already called and told her—if I wake her up she might get real mad, she's got the worst temper in the family," Harmony said. It took her a moment to remember the number, but as soon as she remembered it, Juliette dialed.

Copyright © 1995 by Larry McMurtry

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
Ronald Reed Fort Worth Star-Telegram May be the best pure love story he has written.

Malcolm Jones Jr. Newsweek Intensely lively...Harmony holds us even tighter than she did in The Desert Rose...In The Late Child, the former showgirl...achieves heroic proportions.

Peggy Payne The Dallas Morning News Deftly told. Wildly imaginative, with quick, sharp characterizations...delicious in details from start to finish.

Meet the Author

Larry McMurtry is the author of twenty-nine novels, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Lonesome Dove, three memoirs, two collections of essays, and more than thirty screenplays. He lives in Archer City, Texas.

Brief Biography

Archer City, Texas
Date of Birth:
June 3, 1936
Place of Birth:
Wichita Falls, Texas
B.A., North Texas State University, 1958; M.A., Rice University, 1960. Also studied at Stanford University.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Late Child 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago