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Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Desert Rose

I love reading books that get mixed reviews. If you check out the Amazon page for The Desert rose you will see critics and readers are all over the map on this one. Larry McMurtry is almost as well known for his romances as his westerns. Somehow he has the talent to pull off Terms of Endearment and Streets of Laredo. He does this by mastering the art of developing characters and making them living things who react realistically in their little worlds.

The Desert Rose is a story about a Las Vegas showgirl who is approaching 40. She used to be the most beautiful woman in Las Vegas but she has been surpassed in pulchritude by her daughter. Harmony doesn't have a lot of profound thoughts, that's also a McMurtry literary device. His characters generally lack the ability to engage in soul searching. You don't see them go through a lot of internal struggle, it's always the world they live in that they are struggling against.

The book is pretty much a pure character study of Harmony and secondarily her daughter Pepper. They both move around the same circles but rarely interact. Harmony is about to end her career as a showgirl while Pepper is about to start hers. In spite of how similar their lives will be, they are terribly lacking in shared moments. We even are denied the scene where both of them would be on stage together because the show producer, wisely, tells Harmony that to put them both on stage together would just highlight how much Harmony's looks would be overshadowed by her daughter's beauty.

So many of the reviews tend to excoriate Pepper for how she treats Harmony. Personally I didn't get that out of the book. I can't see how having a showgirl mother who has had terrible relationships with men who are drunks and criminals can put Harmony in a place where she deserves traditional motherly respect. Honestly I think there were only two scenes where the two of them were in the same room and most of that time was marked by what they didn't say.

The book is pretty short, at 256 pages. It's an easy read too so it's only an afternoon or two to make it through. I wouldn't say that I recommend it particularly but if you're a fan of McMurtry or have a spare couple of bucks at the used bookstore I'd say it's better than watching reruns of American Idol.

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