Nobody captures west Texas better than McMurtry and now it's official - nobody gets Baby Boomer guys better either. He's just that damn good.
Rhino Ranch picks up where Duane's Depressed left us. Duane (imagine an older version of Jeff Bridges) is disenchanted with the oil bidness and splits his time between his McMansion and his line cabin shack. He's still in Thalia (McMurtry's stand-in for the real Archer City) and his only real companions are his two best buddies, Boyd Cotton and Bobby Lee Baxter.
Billionaire heiress K.K. Slater moves into the adjoining ranch and sets up Rhino Ranch - a home for the endangered African black rhino. Like an older, richer version of the young Jacy Farrow (think Cybil Shepherd in The Last Picture Show) K.K. is hard to figure out. But that doesn't stop Duane from reigniting his considerable charm - which is largely lost on the billionaire babe.
The story is set in the present and we are after all in a recession. So, Boyd and Bobby Lee become wranglers at the ranch. It's a boring job that allows plenty of time to sit in a large metal tower, watch the rhinos graze and talk about life, love and geezer sex. Lot's of geezer sex.
When they aren't keeping watch on the herd and rooting out the local meth heads cooking nearby, they're at the local Dairy Queen eating chicken fried steaks and fulfilling the whims of K.K. Slater. Slater is nothing if not entertaining. Her impact on Thalia is profound - from turning the old hotel into her personal residence, to importing French chefs. It's more than enough to keep gossip-hungry locals well fed.
Duane befriends one of the rhinos (Double Ought) and McMurtry allows his bestial besty to become a metaphor for age, loss and wanderlust. The metaphors are liberally mixed with snappy dialogue, Texas humor and plenty of poignant scenes.
As he watches the women in his life drift away, Duane contemplates his own mortality and sense of purpose. This is dreary stuff in the hands of a less talented author. But, McMurtry understands the complexities of small town life and - after four novels and two movies about these characters - it's clear he knows where these people are going even if they don't.
Rhino Ranch is the fitting finish to this west Texas tale. Like the end of a rodeo grand entry, McMurtry leaves the arena in a cloud of dust and the crowd hungry for more.
Author: Larry McMurtry
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Penned: June 2010 (paperback)
Time Out: The 278 pages fly by so fast you'll be sad it doesn't last longer.
Beach Worthy: I read it on the way to the beach, but McMurtry's elegant prose had me seeing tumbleweeds and sandstorms instead of crashing waves.
Available: $10.20 from Amazon.com