Page 24


Don Graham is the J. Frank Dobie Regents Professor in American and English Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. “Anything for Larry” is part of a longer work in progress. Graham will shortly be receiving a seventy-five dollar check from receiving ir the O bserver. 12 SEPTEMBER 15, 1995 Anything for Larry A Critic’s Quixotic Pursuit of the State’s Most Famous Living Writer BY DOH GRAHAM THE LAST TIME I SAW LARRY was in 1988, when he came to the University of Texas to give a talk. Actually give is not quite the word. Larry is not into giving, as they say. I don’t even want to know how much he was paid to give this talk. But he was still riding the crest of Lonesome Squab and I know the amount was in the neighborhood of five thousand plus. Anyway, I was asked to give the introduction, which I had no choice but to do. And do happily, I might add, because that is what I do when the administration asks me to do something: I do it for free and hope for a crumb later. It’s called Being a Professor. Anyway, during my brief and incredibly witty remarks, which I read with studied casualness, a front tooth that I’d forgotten had even been capped fell off in midsentence, clattering onto the slanted podium in front of me and rolling down to the bottom where, covertly, I managed to snare it. A faint odor of decay filled my mouth, like the opening of an ancient, long-sealed tomb, but the worst problem was that my voice began to emit a low whistle, and the louder I talked, the more I sounded like a wind tunnel where they were testing a new supersonic jet. I staggered through to the end, once again humiliated in the presence of the august and fabulously wealthy Larry. Larry’s speech that day was one of those off-the-cuff, thinking-out-loud deals. He doesn’t have to prepare anything, he just talks for a specified time and they write him out a check. It was sort of interesting, though, when he said he was tired of writing novels, that men over fifty-five or so whatever age he was at that moment couldn’t write novels anyway \(the thought of Tolstoy, Saul Bellow, and John Updike momentarily flickered across my mind as, furtively rubbing my tooth like a talisman of failure, I sat sunkenly beside the president of was perhaps going to write some travel books in the future but he certainly didn’t intend to write any more novels. Since then, he has published five or is it six novels and signed a $10.2 million contract for four novels. That they seem to be getting progressively worse is perhaps a point of interest to some readers, though I wonder whether Larry cares or not. The truth is, though Larry’s much on my mind, I haven’t read all of his work. I’ve read only two of the what is it now, five sequels that he continues to bring out like an aging TV producer hoping to hit pay dirt ‘ one more time, these novels that are beginning to feel like one of those reunion shows, the Waltons twenty years later, the Brady Bunch reassembled, etc. Still, I think about Larry all the time, though I’m sure he never thinks of me, except when he reads one of my brilliant, witty, and sometimes scathing dismissals of his recent work, and then I know what he thinks. He thinks: “It’s that dipshit Graham again.” I know he thinks of me as a dipshit because that is the word he used to describe David Koresh in a marvelous meditative essay on the Branch Davidians that he wrote for The New Republic \(Larry is a woncalled David Koresh a “dipshit guru,” which is a phrase I wish I’d written in an essay I wish I’d written but if I had it wouldn’t have been published in The New Republic for one thousand dollars to the delight of every intellectual in the country, but in The Texas Observer for seventy-five dollars and the total oblivion that a seventy-five dollar royalty can guarantee. Although I call him “Larry,” I probably shouldn’t. What shall I call him? I’ve met him enough over the years to feel awkward calling him “Mr. McMurtry,” and in a rambling, incoherent piece of peevishness like this one, I must eschew the rather cold litcrit convention of “McMurtry,” and since this is an entirely imaginary journey well, almostI feel most comfortable with “Larry.” Were he to knock at the door of my modest domicile some day soon though I’m certain he won’the never hasI’d probably avoid calling him anything until I was sure “Larry” wouldn’t seem too familiar. But since this is my story, not his, and therefore home court ad