Thursday, October 20, 2016

Walking a mile/life in Aurora Greenway's (many) shoes

I finally read Terms of Endearment,  which means that I finally have come to know the character of Aurora Greenway.  I have never related so much to anyone who is so different from me.

It was my first Larry McMurtry in quite some time. It has been more than a decade since I read and adored Lonesome Dove, which I am still forever telling people to read, and another Gus and Call book, Dead Man's Walk (which wasn''t as good as Lonesome Dove- few things are - not that I had much hope as I am always super wary of prequels, even more than of sequels.) During that time I have always meant to get around to reading more McMurtry, but you know how I am with my books and projects and piles and lists of things to read...

Terms of Endearment, however, was always steadily up there on the urgency scale, if nothing else because of another looooooongtime but almost finished project of mine, that of watching all the Oscar winning Best Pictures. The movie Terms of Endearment is one of the few Best Picture winners I haven't seen, largely because I wanted to read the book first. Well, I've at long last attended to the reading portion of that goal.

Frankly, I don't know that the book was all that great. Kind of like Ordinary People, which I also finally read recently, for reasons of see above. I mean -- these books are okay, but to spawn super famous Best Picture winners? Hmmmph. It remains to be seen whether Out of Africa, my last lingering '80s-Best-Picture-winner-source-material-so-I-can-finally-watch-the-movie, underwhelms similarly.

But Aurora. Holy cow. We are the same. I wasn't even born when Larry McMurtry wrote this, but it's as if he channeled my spirit, the entity that would soon be me. It's weird, because, as I said, she's not actually like me. She is into, just to name a few things, cooking, shoes, and having lots of suitors hang around her. I'm not like that. AND YET, we are so very, very similar in our sort of essential (as in essence) approach to being in this world. I will here and now share a few quotes to show you what I mean. Let's start with Aurora speaking to her daughter Emma, early on, page 94:

"When I'm mellow and the air has a nice weight I do so love to speak elliptically, you know...As for your question, which happily you phrased grammatically, if rather dully, I can tell you quite distinctly that I don't care if I never hear the phrase 'really felt' again....No, I've not finished...I may have new heights to rise to. For all I know, my dear, good grammar provides a more lasting basis for sound character than quote real feeling unquote."

There's more. On page 225, for example there's another exchange with her daughter:

"Everybody's afraid of you. Why don't you try being gentle for a change?"
"I do try--it's just that I seem to be prone to exasperation," Aurora said .

How about her early days with Vernon?

"Yes, you're much too polite, I know that," she said. "It's a pity I'm not..."

"I don't want you to be scared!" she yelled. "I"m just a human being! I just wanted you to sit and drink some tea...with me...and be my companion for a few minutes.  ... I'm not scary! Don't tell me I'm scary! There's nothing frightening about me. You're all just cowards!"

I mean, clearly we could stop there. But what the heck, let's continue.

"...she was as she had been that afternoon--spiritless, convinced of nothing except that there was not much point in trying to make things right. Things would never be right."

"For all I know the whole point of civilization is to provide one with someone to drink tea with at the end of an evening."

As she sat at the window, looking out, her sense of the wrongness of it was deep as bone. It was not just wrong to go on so, it was killing. Her energies, it seemed to her, had always flowed from a capacity for expectation, a kind of hopefulness that had persisted year after year in defiance of all difficulties. It was hopefulness, the expectation that something nice was bound to happen to her, that got her going in the morning and brought her contentedly to bed at night." 

"Oh well, you know me," Aurora said. "I'm not one to hold grudges. I acquire so many of them that some have to be discarded."

How will we top that one?  Let's try.

"Why, after all these years, do people still think I mean anything?" she asked.

Once, Emma tells her: "I hope I never become arrogant, like you...You dismiss whole classes of people with a wave of your hand."

Later on, the General has some words: "You just talk to hear yourself talk." In her reply: "I've gone to quite unusual lengths to be accommodating to you, and we still seem to fight all the time. What's life going to be like if I suddenly decide to be troublesome?" "You can't be any goddamn worse than you are," the General said. "Ha ha, little you know," she said. "I've made almost no demands on you. Suppose I decided to make a few."  

Moving on. "Of course, being away from home has always made me feel quite gay," she added. "I believe I'm a born gadabout. One of my problems is that I frequently need a change."

Don't overlook this conversation with Rosie.

"Don't like to impose," Rosie said.
"No, I'm the only one who seems to. I'm only sorry there aren't more people willing to be imposed upon."

Those are just the choice lines whose pages I noted along the way. Reading these bits of Aurora was almost unnerving, like, is someone inside my mind? And if so, why is that person Larry McMurtry? Apparently there was a lot of praise heaped on him for writing women so well in this and a few other books. Well, I don't know about all that -- and much of what happens in Terms of Endearment is bizarre, implausible, or straight up farcical. But McMurtry is certainly onto something. Or someone. (Me.)

Once more, with feeling:  "There's nothing frightening about me. You're all just cowards!"


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