The fifth novel in what was originally thought by critics to be a trilogy, Rhino Ranch appears to be Larry McMurtry’s last foray into the small and dying town of Thalia, Texas.
It all began with The Last Picture Show (1966), in which Duane Moore and his buddies were lovesick teenagers, and Thalia was enjoying prosperity from the oil boom years. In Texasville, the sequel, the town wealth has dissipated with the oversupply of oil, and Duane has gone from a millionaire to an almost-broke father of four incorrigible offspring, and is dealing with midlife crisis in all its many guises.
Duane moves into his early 60’s in Duane’s Depressed (1998), in which McMurtry addressed the issues of aging and mortality, while still keeping his sense of humor, as Duane gives up his car, deciding to walk everywhere, turns the family oil business over to his son Dickie, who is only recently out of drug rehab, and moves to a dilapidated but very private shack outside of town, partly to escape from his difficult and ungrateful grandchildren.
The fourth novel in the Duane saga, When the Light Goes, found Duane’s beloved town of Thalia threatened by urban sprawl, and Duane as an apathetic and listless widower—until a series of young and nubile females ply him, somewhat mysteriously, with their sexual favors.
Which brings the reader to Rhino Ranch. The titular setting is the brainchild of K.K. Slater, a south Texas heiress who hopes to establish a sanctuary for African black rhinos on 120,000 acres just outside of Thalia. McMurtry trots out a beguiling cast of characters including Duane, of course, who strikes up a bizarre friendship with one of the rhinos; his old buddies Boyd and Bobby Lee security officers on the Rhino Ranch who spend most of their time tracking the activities of the local meth dealers from their observation tower; Duane’s daughters, who are “living the life of rich divorcees in North Dallas” and his grandson Willy, a Rhodes scholar tryingto distance himself from Thalia’s narrow minds.
In Rhino Ranch, McMurtry gets back to what he does best: the dead-on depiction of this small Texas town and its quirky inhabitants who immediately engage the reader in their less than perfect lives. As Duane’s lady friends what he might have done differently—but the reader knows that when he, too, is gone, the town of Thalia will be the worse for his passing.
Deborah Donovan writes from La Veta, Colorado