Paradise

Paradise

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by Larry McMurtry
     
 

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In 1999, Larry McMurtry, whose wanderlust had been previously restricted to the roads of America, set off for a trip to the paradise of Tahiti and the South Sea Islands in an old-fashioned tub of a cruise boat, at a time when his mother was slipping toward a paradise of her own. Opening up to her son in her final days, his mother makes a stunning revelation of a

Overview

In 1999, Larry McMurtry, whose wanderlust had been previously restricted to the roads of America, set off for a trip to the paradise of Tahiti and the South Sea Islands in an old-fashioned tub of a cruise boat, at a time when his mother was slipping toward a paradise of her own. Opening up to her son in her final days, his mother makes a stunning revelation of a previous marriage and sends McMurtry on a journey of an entirely different kind.

Vividly, movingly, and with infinite care, McMurtry paints a portrait of his parents' marriage against the harsh, violent landscape of west Texas. It is their roots — laced with overtones of hard work, bitter disappointment, and the Puritan ethic — that McMurtry challenges by traveling to Tahiti, a land of lush sensuality and easy living. With fascinating detail, shrewd observations, humorous pathos, and unforgettable characters, he begins to answer some of the questions of what paradise is, whether it exists, and how different it is from life in his hometown of Archer City, Texas.

Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
Whether digressing on his mother's romantic exploits or the call of the South Seas, the much-admired McMurtry continues to deliver in Paradise. In 1999, prompted by his mother's approaching death, he embarked on a voyage to Tahiti and the South Sea Islands, seeking time to write about his parents and their long and stormy marriage in small-town Archer City, Texas. Vividly portrayed, they stand in high profile against the backdrop of their limited world, with McMurtry's incisive observations weaving smoothly between Texas and Tahiti, between their past and his present.

Like the explorers who preceded him -- Melville, Gauguin, Thor Heyerdahl -- McMurtry became inspired by the Polynesian landscape and culture. The darkness and splendor of paradise is a persistent theme. While reflecting on paradise and those who so ardently seek it, McMurtry -- like Gauguin -- notes in the islands a strain of melancholy blending darkly into the lush and vivid scenery. In "Le Bateau and Les Isles Marquises," McMurtry asks: What is paradise? Where is paradise? Who are these people who come seeking it? And precisely what do they seek? McMurtry calls them "international slummers," the lotus-eaters who come to remote and exotic islands to find something -- significance or perfection or the unknown. They remain unfulfilled: So little paradise is left, so few places are free of tall buildings, cars, noise, and garbage. For them and most of us, McMurtry notes, paradise is pristine: clean beaches, friendly locals, no fast food restaurant chains.

McMurtry is not immune to traveler's letdown. Thin dogs, listless youths, and insensitive tourists amply armed with cameras stir self-awareness and sadness. But good humor infuses McMurtry's observations; easy dry wit flows throughout. We are left contemplative and questioning, better able to laugh at our optimistic and escapist expectations. (Peter Skinner)

Peter Skinner lives in New York City.

In this slim memoir, McMurtry attempts to connect two very different chapters of his life. The result is a sometimes strange, ultimately unsatisfying book. Partly a portrait of his parents' troubled marriage, it details "the rich mosaic of their incompatibilities." The book then jumps a half-century later to describe a trip McMurtry took to the South Seas as his mother neared death in Archer City, Texas. This voyage to paradise contrasts sharply with the hardscrabble landscape that his parents left so infrequently, and McMurtry attempts to establish connections between the remote islands beyond Tahiti and the lives of his parents. This travelogue reads more like the sort of magazine piece a novelist dashes off on a working holiday. There are some characteristically wonderful passages that only McMurtry could write: "I have survived into my sixty-fourth year by never underestimating the belligerence of swine," or his simile for the diminishment of his parents' hope: "life turned out from under them like a fine cutting horse will turn out from under an experienced rider." But a trip that could have been condensed into a few pages (or even paragraphs) simply can't support a memoir.
—Don McLeese

(Excerpted Review)
Library Journal
Pulitzer Prize winner McMurtry has written a gem of a book part family memoir and part travelog in this slim, autobiographical volume. The author of 24 novels, four nonfiction books, and more than 30 screenplays and editor of an anthology of modern Western fiction, McMurtry has recently become deeply introspective, as evidenced by his memoirs, Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen (LJ 10/1/99) and Roads. (LJ 7/00) In these memoirs, McMurtry reflected on his own life and experiences, providing a sense of Texas as vast, unique, yet in an inevitable decline. In this new memoir, he tells a west Texas tale, but he writes it from the peace and tranquillity of the South Sea Islands. McMurtry boards a freighter to the Marquesas to begin his journey both physical and emotional and records his parents' lives, beginning with their marriage in 1934 during the depths of the Depression. He analyzes their lives prior to their union and contrasts them with the lushness, laziness, and sheer beauty of Tahiti and the South Sea Islands. This personal little book offers both a wonderful depiction of a place and a sincere picture of the author and his family. Highly recommended. Cynde Bloom Lahey, New Canaan Lib., CT Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A glancing memoir by McMurtry (Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, 1999, etc.), an extraordinarily talented spinner of tales, the author of such bestselling and critically acclaimed titles as Lonesome Dove and The Last Picture Show. His recent turn to writing travel memoirs (Roads, 2000, etc.) has produced less satisfactory results, however, and here he recounts a Polynesian cruise on which representatives of various nationalities behave in silly and predictable ways—the Germans slugging beer, the French casting snide looks, the Danes retreating into their cabin for libidinous fun—while he combs the ship looking for something interesting to read and takes notes on the passing scene. His descriptions of the people he encounters seldom transcend travel-magazine captioneering: "The girls were lovely, with hip movements that would have earned them immediate employment at any lap-dancing establishment in Las Vegas," or "The Tahitians . . . aren't lazy, but neither are they harried. They seem happy, competent, friendly, talkative." More interesting are his bookish asides on the writers and artists who have made their way to the South Seas—Robert Louis Stevenson, Paul Gauguin, Henry Adams, and the like. More interesting still, if oddly juxtaposed, is his account of his parents' sad marriage, which began with much promise but ended in bitterness. "He was a bright hope," he writes, "so was she—and yet life turned out from under them like a fine cutting horse will turn out from under an inexperienced rider." McMurtry ties these threads together, but only very loosely, with random thoughts on the quest for earthly paradise, or at least "escape from the culture ofoverachievers." No overachievement itself, this is likely to disappoint loyal McMurtry fans.
From the Publisher
George Scialabba The Washington Post McMurtry...cannot write a slack or self-important sentence...this [is a] short, sweet book.

Amanda Heller The Boston Globe Larry McMurtry is at his most charming in this shipboard travelogue...His Paradise, though tinged with regret, is paradise enow.

Mark Busby The Austin Chronicle Paradise is a tight little book...Charting the twains of heaven and hell, ecstasy and agony, is the cartography of the writer and the terrain of Paradise...In the end, it serves as a postcard from child to mom, recalling love before knowledge but written long after the fall.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780743215657
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
06/07/2001
Pages:
160
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 8.98(h) x 0.66(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
George Scialabba The Washington Post McMurtry...cannot write a slack or self-important sentence...this [is a] short, sweet book.

Amanda Heller The Boston Globe Larry McMurtry is at his most charming in this shipboard travelogue...His Paradise, though tinged with regret, is paradise enow.

Mark Busby The Austin Chronicle Paradise is a tight little book...Charting the twains of heaven and hell, ecstasy and agony, is the cartography of the writer and the terrain of Paradise...In the end, it serves as a postcard from child to mom, recalling love before knowledge but written long after the fall.

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

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

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