Unearthing Aurora


Lost Books of Texas

Terms of Endearment is a book?” a well-read friend asked recently. “I didn’t know that. I thought it was just a movie.”

Hell yes it’s a book, I said, and told her she should read it immediately. It’s one of my favorite Larry McMurtry novels, published in 1975. Terms of Endearment doesn’t quite qualify as a “lost book” since it’s written by the renowned McMurtry. But Aurora Greenway is one of the greatest characters to get lost between the page and the big screen.

According to the back of my yellowed paperback, “Aurora Greenway is the kind of woman who makes the whole world orbit around her.” That sums it up pretty well. Approaching 50, Aurora is imperious, domineering, charming, indomitable. A small horde of suitors—an opera singer, a four-star general, a playboy, an oil millionaire, a bank vice-president—hover around her, dazzled by her beauty, spirit and wit. She’s alternately gentle and brutal with them; you’ve seen a self-satisfied cat toy with its hapless prey, haven’t you? She rejects their advances, corrects their grammar and pounces on inept literary allusions.

If she sounds like a monster—well, she is. She’s also aging and grappling with her own unwieldy emotions. In her most private times, she loses hope. She’s worshipped and coveted by men who will never understand her.

You’d never know any of this if you’ve only seen the 1983 movie. As played by Shirley MacClaine, Aurora is irrational and prudish, a silly, forgettable, negligible woman. The film’s strongest character—who wasn’t in the book, but was created for the movie—is Jack Nicholson as a randy astronaut. He seduces Aurora and teaches her how (and I quote) “fan-fucking-tastic sex is!” Then he dumps her, and she’s crushed.

The film was a hit. It won the Academy Award for best picture. MacLaine won for best actress, and Nicholson took best supporting actor. The movie took Aurora from being a commanding, complex, mercurial woman of great appetites to a skinny, sniveling housewife who needed to get laid.

Do I sound angry? You bet. I’ve been pissed off for 27 years. You know what troubles me the most? It’s the fact that no one noticed or objected. Aurora Greenway’s been lost for almost three decades now. Do me—and yourself—a favor. Read the book and find her.