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From Barnes & NobleThe 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.