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

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

Mr. McMurtry wrote his first novels while teaching English at Texas Christian University, Rice University, George Mason College and American Univer

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Mr. McMurtry wrote his first novels while teaching English at Texas Christian University, Rice University, George Mason College and American University. He was not fond of teaching, however, and left it behind as his career went forward.

He moved to the Washington area and with a partner opened his first Booked Up store in 1971, dealing in 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 cover on a copy of ‘Native Son’ indicates a first printing and which one doesn’t,” Mr. Trillin wrote. “He knows the precise value of poetry books by Robert Lowell that Robert Lowell may now have forgotten writing.”

While much of Mr. McMurtry’s writing dealt with the West or his Texas heritage, he also wrote novels about Washington (“Cadillac Jack”), Hollywood (“Somebody’s Darling”) and Las Vegas (“The Desert Rose”). There was a comic brio in his best books, alongside an ever-present melancholy. He was praised for his ability to create memorable and credible 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 up front about her appetites. “Only a saint could live with me, and I can’t live with a saint,” she says. “Older men aren’t up to me, and younger men aren’t interested.”

“I believe the one gift that led me to a career in fiction was the ability to make up characters that readers connect with,” Mr. McMurtry once wrote. “My characters move them, which is also why those same characters move them when they meet them on the screen.”

His early novels were generally well reviewed, although Thomas Lask, writing about “The Last Picture Show” in The Times Book Review, said, “Mr. McMurtry is not exactly a virtuoso at the typewriter.” Other critics would pick up that complaint. Mr. McMurtry wrote too much, some said, and quantity outstripped quality. “I dash off 10 pages a day,” Mr. McMurtry boasted in “Books.”

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