Pastures of the Empty Page

George Getschow, Editor

University of Texas Press (2023)

Reviewed by Juli McCullagh

Pastures of the Empty Page is a revealing and poignant tribute to Larry McMurtry. It is a collection of essays assembled and curated by George Getschow, one of the most Texan non-native Texans I have the pleasure to know.

Nearly forty writers pay homage to McMurtry, who inspired their writing careers. Importantly, McMurtry is a writer who left an indelible mark on the cultural imagination of what the American West was and is.

Getschow, the editor of Pastures, runs the Archer City Writers Workshop in McMurtry’s hometown, which is the setting and inspiration for many of McMurtry’s early novels, including Horseman, Pass By, Leaving Cheyenne, and The Last Picture Show.

Getschow has devoted nearly two decades to the cult of Larry McMurtry. Early in his career, McMurtry was labeled a ‘minor regional writer’. In his long and impressive career, McMurtry’s characters and stories have come to define the modern Western. With each new novel, literary critics began referring to McMurtry as “a giant” of the Texas Literary landscape.

McMurtry was born in 1936 into a Texas frontier family, a son and grandson of pioneers who tried to scratch a living out of the unforgiving Texas soil under the unforgiving sun. He was born near the end of one era, the ranching cowboy era, and the beginning of
the oil boom that threatened to erase an iconic chapter of the American mystique. The McMurtry home contained no books when the writer was a child. A cousin passing through North Texas on his way to fight in WWII left a box of books that the future writer devoured. The cache of books upended his cowboy life, setting into motion his quest his to escape the life his father had planned for him. Though McMurtry rejected that plan,
his forbears, and their land, seeped into his soul. That was something he could never escape.

McMurtry became part of the wider American cultural imagination through his vast productions of novels, screenplays, and essays. He captured a distinct portrait of a slice of history that still stirs the imagination and has become part of the definition of America, a particularly masculine definition of America of unyielding soil and heat, hard living and hard dying. In his essays, he comments on the silence of women in this harsh lifestyle. Hushed into submissiveness, little of a feminine sensibility can fare well, except, perhaps, their endurance and determination despite the crushing hostility of the men and the land.

Beyond the settings and even the stories, what McMurtry does reveal in his work is human character and complexity, the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, working it out, day after day, in language that makes a reader pause and wonder, if just for a moment, how he manages to work beauty into the pasture of his not so empty page.