Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Loop Group (2004)

Larry McMurtry has always had the knack of creating memorably quirky characters for his novels and Loop Group is no exception. He seems to have a particular fondness for feisty sixty-something year old women, and with Maggie Clary and her best friend Connie, he has created two of the funniest fictional women since Terms of Endearment’s Aurora Greenway. Maggie and Connie, best friends since the sixth grade, are two women who simply refuse to act like the sixty-year olds they are. Single and lusty as ever, they are still using their Hollywood

contacts to hustle a living as part of a “loop group” that provides groans, shrieks, grunts and other sounds as part of the dubbing process used for movie soundtracks.

Critics have pointed out that the movie world no longer functions as McMurtry portrays it in Loop Group, if it ever did. But that’s really not the point. This is comedy, almost slapstick at times, and the workaday details of Hollywood movie production are just not an important a part of the story. Readers looking for a realistic portrayal of Hollywood, or for answers about the meaning of life for those who reach sixty years of age, will be disappointed. This is a comedy, not a self-help book, and it is a first-rate comedy, at that. I was surprised at the number of extremely bad reviews the book has received on because this is vintage McMurtry with a style and tone that is not unlike many of his best books of the past. Loop Group is being panned for many of the same reasons that other McMurtry books have been praised.

Maggie has literally not felt whole since her hysterectomy and her three daughters and her friends are worried enough about her that she has begun to receive their special attention. Depressed and listless, and growing more depressed all the time because of all the extra attention she is getting, Maggie decides to take the advice of a flirtatious waiter to get away from it all and see a bit of America. She and Connie, two women who have never strayed far from Los Angeles in their entire lives, head for Texas to visit Maggie’s only living aunt, a vigorous six-gun toting woman who is the proud owner of “two million chickens” and a house that reminds the ladies of the one in the movie Giant.

Maggie and Connie are no Thelma and Louise and on their way to Texas they manage to meet a “professional” hitchhiker who scares them so badly that they leave the interstate and travel some of the most desolate back roads that the Southwest has to offer. They even manage to lose their van to a chronic car thief when they stop in the middle of nowhere at the first sign of civilization that they’ve seen for hours.

Typical of a Larry McMurtry book, Maggie and Connie share their lives and their little adventures with side characters eccentric enough to make them seem almost normal. There are Maggie’s little Sicilian shrink, the various members of her “loop group,” her three daughters and their husbands, and her Aunt Cooney, for a start. This one is fun. Especially so if the reader recognizes up front that it is farce and not intended as a guide book to aging gracefully, a point which many critics seem to have missed.

Rated at: 4.0

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