January 25, 1999 12:00 PM

by Larry McMurtry

Book of the week

Not much happens in this tale of Duane Moore, previously the hero of The Last Picture Show and Texasville but now a bored oilman who chucks his squalling west Texas family for some quiet time in a secluded cabin: a Walden kind of guy fleeing a Wal-Mart culture. Yet every page of the trilogy’s concluding novel is as welcome as a letter from home, a sad and funny one. McMurtry’s fellow tenants on the bestseller list can’t find as much significance in the ticks of a nuclear weapon as McMurtry does in the tics of a nuclear family (sample crisis: “I got to take good care of this vehicle. If it breaks down, I won’t have no way to get to a bar”). Duane’s blue-jeans blues lead him to such fancy-pants cures as psychotherapy (though Duane frets, “If that’s what she costs, it’d be cheaper just to shoot myself”) and Marcel Proust, whose 3,000-page saga Remembrance of Things Past Duane swallows, with his shrink’s prodding, like castor oil.

Like his laconic hero, the 60ish McMurtry was incapacitated by depression and emerged with an eccentric project (in his case, a huge used-book store; in Duane’s, a community vegetable garden). McMurtry is a Dust Bowl Salinger, making his characters our friends, their crises our own, in bare and beautiful prose. (Simon & Schuster, $26)

Bottom Line: Picture perfect

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