With a riotously colorful cast of highbrows, cowpokes, and rodeo queens, in its wry humor, tenderness, and epic panorama, Moving On is a celebration of our land by Larry McMurtry, one of America’s best-loved authors.
Moving On is a big, powerful novel about men and women in the American West. Set in the 1960s against the backdrop of the honky-tonk glamour of the rodeo and the desperation of suburban Houston, it is the story of the restless and lovable Patsy Carpenter, one of Larry McMurtry’s most unforgettable characters.
Patsy—young, beautiful, with a sharp tongue and an irresistible charm—and her shiftless husband, Jim, are adrift in the West. Patsy moves through affairs of the heart like small towns—there’s Pete, the rodeo clown, and Hank, the graduate student, and others—always in search of the life that seems ever receding around the next bend. Moving On is vintage McMurtry.
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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.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Patsy sat by herself at the beginning of the evening, eating a melted Hershey bar. She had been reading Catch-22 but remembered the Hershey and fished it out of the glove compartment, where it had been all day. It was too melted to be neatly handleable, so she laid the paperback on the car seat and avidly swiped the chocolate off the candy paper with two fingers. When the candy was gone, she dropped the sticky wrappers out the window and licked what was left of the chocolate off her fingers before picking up the book again.
Sometimes she ate casually and read avidly -- other times she read casually and ate avidly. Another melted Hershey would have left her content, but there wasn't another. The glove compartment held nothing but road maps and a bottle of hand lotion, and if she walked to a concession stand and bought another Hershey it wouldn't be melted, probably.
And it was dusk, almost too dark to read. She had been in the grandstand, but the lights around the arena had come on too early, spoiling some of the softness of the evening, so she had come back to the Ford. Evening had always been her favorite time of day, and in Texas, in the spring, it was especially so. Dawn was said to be just as lovely, but she had seen only a few dawns and had been only half awake at most of those. It was evening that made her feel keen and fresh and hopeful.
The Ford was parked far back from the arena in a jumble of pickups and horsetrailers, far enough away that the lights and noise of rodeo scarcely intruded on the dusk. Soon she put Catch-22 on the seat again and sat watching the sky to the west. The sun had gone down and all the lower sky was yellow. While she watched, it became orange and then red and then a fainter red, and the color lingered on the rim of the plains until the whole sky was dark.
She wore a gray dress and was bare-armed. It had been a hot afternoon for May, and the coolness of dusk felt good on her arms. Behind her, at the near end of the bleachers, a high school band broke into the National Anthem -- it meant that the Grand Entry was in progress. The arena was full of horses and riders: rodeo had come again to Merkel, Texas. There were riding clubs, kids piled on ponies, pivot men unfurling the flags of the nations, cowgirls in tight pink trousers, and nervous businessmen on palominos. The procession into the arena had been very noisy, but before the anthem ended, the sound of hoofs and the jingling of bits faded out and the grounds became so quiet that Patsy heard it when one of the young clarinetists squeaked his reed. Everyone but her was standing up and the knowledge made her fretful and a little ashamed of herself.
The sport of rodeo did not interest Patsy at all -- it interested her husband Jim. She herself had lumped it in her mind with cows, and cows did not interest her at all -- not, at least, unless they were properly cooked. The fact that no cows were at hand was merely a lucky happenstance; in that part of Texas cows might appear at any moment. The only animal immediately at hand was a fat sorrel horse. He was tied to the sideboards of a nearby trailer, close enough that Patsy could smell him. Aside from one fart, he had been very polite and had gained her sympathies. Several times cowboys had walked by and slapped him on the behind to make him move over, and he had refrained from kicking them. If similarly provoked, she felt sure she would have kicked them. Occasionally the horse swished his tail against the fender of the Ford.
In the west a few very bright stars were out, though it was still not completely dark. She felt a little restless and was considering what she might do, when another cowboy walked by, a can of beer in one hand. He slapped the horse on the rump and the horse moved over. The cowboy burped, pitched down his beer can, unbuttoned his pants, and immediately began to relieve himself against the fender of the Ford.
"Hey," Patsy said, very startled. "Go piss on your own car!"
She was too surprised to sound very outraged, but she was no more surprised than the cowboy. He whirled around toward the trailer, liberally watering the whole area, horse included.
"My god, I never knowed you was there," he said. "Why didn't you speak up sooner?"
"Shock prevented me," she said faintly, for she was shocked -- the more so as the first surprise wore off. She could hear him pissing.
"Lady," he sighed, "I would stop. I just ain't got the brakes."
"Oh, hell," she said, flustered.
The cowboy was silent until he finished and had buttoned up. He stood with his back to her a moment, apparently in thought, and then confidently hitched up his pants and turned toward the car.
"Ed Boggs," he said. "I guess I ought to apologize."
"I'm Patsy Carpenter," Patsy said, assuming that an introduction was taking place. Ed Boggs was clearly charmed. He leaned his elbows on the car door and peered in at her happily. His face was paunchy and he smelled of beer and starch and hair oil.
"Never meant to mess up your fender," he said, not bothering to affect remorse. "I just kinda needed somethin' to lean on there for a minute. Been puttin' 'em down a little too fast this evenin'. What I really want to do is ask you for a date to the dance. You look to me like you've got a lot on the ball."
"Why, thanks," Patsy said, smiling. Her cheeks colored. She could never help smiling when complimented. "I'm married, though."
Mr. Boggs neither moved nor changed expression, and she assumed he had not understood.
"I can't go to the dance with you, I mean. I'm really married."
Ed Boggs was in no way discouraged. "Who ain't?" he said amiably. "My old lady's married too. How about me gettin' in and sittin' down with you a minute to catch my breath?"
Patsy wanted very much to scoot toward the opposite door. Sitting beneath Mr. Boggs's face was like sitting beneath a heavy, badly balanced wooden object. He reached for the door handle, as if he were sure she wouldn't mind his getting in, but Patsy had locked the door and he didn't quite have the nerve to unlock it.
"No, you can't get in," she said. "You're being a little rude. I was about to take a nap. Why don't you go off and fill your bladder again?"
Her admirer attempted to take the rebuff in stride, but it was clearly not the sort of thing he was used to hearing from the lips of a woman. His paunches slowly shifted position and became a frown.
"I ain't gonna hug-dance with you if you talk to me like that," he said, attempting to jest. "I ain't out to rape you. I just want to sit down and rest a minute, maybe talk, you know."
Patsy was silent, hoping he would simply go away, but his face remained squarely in the window.
"I'm probably gonna get bucked off a bull tonight," he said finally. "Here I am drunk as dawg shit, I'll probably get my stupid ass stomped. Least you could do is be friendly." At the thought of his own peril his tone grew slightly husky and his frown more melancholy.
Patsy didn't melt with sympathy, but what he said did make it seem funny again. She had been about to get scared.
"That's a pity," she said. "We all have problems. Now please listen -- the point is that I don't want you to get in and sit down. Just please go on away. If you're planning to get stomped maybe you better not refill your bladder after all."
Ed Boggs drew back. He had reached his wits' end. "What's my goddam bladder got to do with it?" he asked loudly. "That's twice you done mentioned it. I just want to get in and sit down."
He paused. "You're a good-lookin' thing, you know," he said, remembering that a compliment had got him his only smile.
"No," Patsy said, suddenly scared. He was terribly big and loud and she didn't know how to get rid of him. "You leave me completely alone! Don't you know better than to urinate on people's cars? It's very rude. I'm married, I told you. You ought to sober up instead of standing there trying to think of some way to seduce me." She started crying and began to roll the car window up.
At that Ed Boggs stepped away from the car. "Well, good snoozin'," he said angrily. "I'm glad I ain't the one that's married to you. I got better sense than to screw a woman as wordy as you are, anyway."
Patsy stopped the window halfway up and they regarded each other for a moment through the deepening dusk. Then Mr. Boggs stalked off, his dignity secure, and Patsy rolled her window back down and sat crying. Tears ran off her cheeks, into the hollows of her throat, down her chest. She could never find a Kleenex when she was crying and could only wipe the tears away with her fingers. Soon enough she stopped and felt more calm. She cried easily -- absurdly easily, she felt. Half the things she cried about were merely silly. Her cheeks stung a little from the tears, but that soon stopped too and they felt cool.
By the time she was through crying it had grown quite dark, so dark that she could barely see the sorrel horse. She wished Jim was there so she could tell him about Ed Boggs. To her left, across the parking lot, she could see the glow from the circle of lights above the open-air dance floor, and she tried for a moment to imagine what it would have been like to go to a dance with such a man. Crushing, she imagined, but then she felt a little annoyed at her own fastidiousness. He might have been a good dancer. The remark about her being too talkative to sleep with rankled, though. It had obviously been sour grapes.
Far to the northwest there were flickerings of lightning. The quietness was broken by a splashing near at hand, a steady splashing that carried with it an odor like wet hay. The patient sorrel horse was pissing too. Patsy looked and saw the arena lights faintly reflected in the spreading puddle. In an instant it lifted her spirits, and she wished again that her husband was there. It was just the kind of coincidence he loved -- the kind that might happen in life but that could never be made to work in a novel. Jim had tried to write a novel the first year they were married and had made it over a hundred pages before he got diverted.
When the splashing stopped, Patsy felt even fonder of the horse than she had originally. She decided to get out and pet him. He was good company, and he seemed to have a sense of the absurd. Just as she was opening the car door she thought she heard someone call her name. She saw no one and was puzzled, until she realized that her name had come over the public address system. The rodeo announcer had called her name.
"WILL MRS. JAMES CARPENTER PLEASE COME TO THE JUDGES' STAND. MRS. JAMES CARPENTER."
Scared, aflutter, she started off immediately and got two pickups away before she remembered her purse. She might need it. Jim was hurt, she knew. Her chest felt tight. She hurried back and got her purse, looked futilely for some Kleenex, and then turned and ran through the cars and trucks toward the arena. Perhaps he had tried to take a picture of a bull and been gored. She began to cry and a few strands of hair stuck to her wet cheek.
As she came dashing out of the parking area, a roper who was warming up his roping mare came within a foot of running her down. Patsy hardly saw the horse, but she felt the rush of its body past hers. She was out of breath and slowed to a walk. The roper whirled his mare and came back -- he was unnerved and furious.
"Let's look where you're goin', lady," he said. "This ain't no damn track meet. I coulda broke your neck."
"I'm sorry," Patsy said, sniffing and trying to get her breath. "I'm afraid my husband's been gored. If you could show me the way to the judges' stand I'll try and stay out of your way."
The roper was a thin young man, no older than Patsy. When he saw how pretty she was, and how distressed, he cooled off at once and got down from his horse to help. He held a rope in one hand and had a contestant's number pinned to the back of his shirt.
"I'm Royce Jones," he said. "Sorry I blew off. You scared the daylights out of me. How'd he get gored, bulldoggin'?"
He spoke quite calmly, as if a goring were something that came to one occasionally, like a toothache, and his spurs jingled lightly as he walked beside her -- a comforting masculine sound.
"He's probably just got raked alongside the ribs," he added, to soothe her. "Always happens sooner or later, doggin'."
"Oh, no, no," Patsy said. "He's a photographer, sort of. I don't really know what's happened to him."
Royce Jones grinned at her in the tolerant way men of experience grin at the folly of women. Distressed as she was, it annoyed her a little.
"I doubt he's gored," he said. "Them steers wouldn't take after a photographer. He probably just wants you to bring him some flashbulbs. Ask the clown, he'll know. That's him there with the cop."
Patsy saw the clown and the cop and turned to thank Royce Jones, but he had mounted his mare and was already riding away. When he was halfway across the dusty road he stood up in his stirrups and turned and waved his rope at her, as if to acknowledge the thanks he hadn't waited to receive.
As Patsy turned back toward the arena she bumped smack into a little girl who had been racing along carrying a Sno-cone. The Sno-cone popped out of its cup and felt on Patsy's foot, and the little girl looked at her angrily and neglected to hold the cup upright, so the lump of ice was followed by a stream of strawberry-colored water, part of which splashed on Patsy's ankles.
"Oh, damn," she said. "Why can't anyone see me coming? Don't worry, I'll buy you another one. I've got some money right here."
"Okay," the little girl said smugly. She knew the world owed her a new Sno-cone. "My name's Fayette," she added in a chummier tone.
Part of the ice Patsy managed to kick off, but most of it slid into her pump and began to melt beneath her instep and trickle between her toes. She dug in her purse but could find nothing smaller than a dollar. It made her feel a little desperate. Jim was somewhere, probably hurt, and the world was coming to an end amid an absolutely ridiculous mess involving her. Something in her rebelled against giving the little girl the whole dollar. She had taken a dislike to the little girl, and she hated to be exploited by anyone she disliked. She felt that her nerves were beginning to split and curl like the ends of her hair sometimes did, and she was on the point of raking things wildly out of her purse when she looked up and saw the clown approaching. He had on baggy overalls, a ridiculous derby hat, and red and white greasepaint.
"I bet you're Mrs. Carpenter," he said in a quiet, agreeable voice. It was in complete contrast to his garish appearance.
"I'm so rattled I'm not sure," Patsy said. "Do you have any change?"
But he had squatted down and was already holding out a dime to the little girl. "I seen your plight," he said, glancing up at Patsy.
Fayette was slightly awed by the clown, but not too awed to be practical. "They cost fifteen cents now," she said. "Do you still have your skunk?"
Patsy would have liked to kick her, but the clown stood up and pulled a quarter out of his pocket. "If you got a nickel you can buy one for your little sister too," he said.
"I only got brothers. Did your skunk die?"
"No, it got stolen in Tucumcari."
The quarter grew bigger in her mind and Fayette said a perfunctory thanks and rushed off to find her best girl friend and tell her about the skunk.
"Thank you so much," Patsy said. "I guess I'm scared -- my legs are shaking. Could I lean on you for one second? I've got a Snocone in my shoe."
She handed him her purse, quickly emptied the water out of her pump, and, with one hand on his shoulder, slipped the shoe back on. "How did you know me?" she asked.
"Kind of an educated guess," he said. "You don't look like nobody else ...
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