Cadillac Jack by Larry McMurtry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
”I make my share of mistakes, but one I never make is to underestimate the power of things. People imbued from childhood with the myth of the primacy of feeling seldom like to admit they really want things as much as they might want love, but my career has convinced me that plenty of them do. And some want things a lot worse than they want love.”
Larry McMurtry or Cadillac Jack
Cadillac Jack derives his name from the transportation he preferred to use for travelling all around the countryside, a ”pearl-colored Cadillac with peach velour interior.” He is a retired rodeo cowboy who has found his true calling in life, chasing down antiques along with a series of women in every port of call. Love and lust are indistinguishable, whether he is talking about a gold leafed, quadripartite, Russian icon or a long legged, curvy, antique store owner. He does sometimes play up his ancestry from Texas, especially when he is seducing women in, say, the Washington D. C. area.
”What I supposed, when I finally set off for Georgetown, was that even a lady who owned three trendy stores might derive a faint buzz from the combination of doeskin jacket, yellow boots, albino-diamondback hatband, and Valentino hubcaps, not to mention six feet five of me.
In the event, Cindy hardly gave the combination a glance.
‘It was a little over-studied,’ she said later, with characteristic candor.”
Over-studied or not, Cindy, though engaged to be married, does the be bop bang with Cadillac Jack.
He has an ex-wife, Coffee, who calls him nearly every day. He is never far from a woman he knows he can spend some time with, whether he is in Spokane, Washington, or Hope, Arkansas, or Montpelier, Vermont. If he thinks he will lack for company, he can always talk some woman into going on the road with him in search of the next great find.
Needless to say, Cadillac Jack has impulse control. If it sounds good, he doesn’t hesitate. If he could just find one new object or meet a new interesting woman every day, how could he ever die?
”One of my firmest principles is that those who sell should not keep. The minute a scout starts keeping his best finds he becomes a collector. All scouts have love affairs with objects, but true scouts have brief intense passions, not marriages. I didn’t want to own something I loved so much I wouldn’t sell it.”
You might have to get Jack good and drunk before he would ever admit it, but he feels the same way about women. He is romantic, but to keep the blush alive, he has to drift in and out of their lives and keep searching for that next woman with object issues of her own. The women who are in the trade, whether they are sellers or buyers, are most likely to understand him, however briefly, anyway.
Jack also makes a lot of lifelong friends along the way. One of them I felt an instant affinity for, as well. ”On nights when he wasn’t too drunk to hold a book, he read himself to sleep with Thucydides, Livy, Suetonius, Gibbon, and Napier. Every ugly suit he owned had a raggedy Penguin paperback in the inside pocket, always history.”
When Jack finds out that the Smithsonian is selling off warehouses full of objects, so much blood goes to his groin so quickly that he nearly passes out. He spends a good part of the book trying to get a line on a score to beat all scores, but at the same time, if he swings a deal like this, will he ever be satisfied with a pair of boots once owned by Billy the Kid or with a set of Rudolph Valentino hubcaps? Climbing the mountain to the top just might ruin his life.
It has been a long time since I’ve read a Larry McMurtry book. He came into my mind the other day because I was thinking about one of the times I met him. He was doing a signing in Tucson. I brought up a first edition of All My Friends are Going to Be Strangers. He was tickled to see a copy. He offered to buy it from me. I said I might be more interested in selling it to you after you sign it (author signed it would at least double in value), which made him laugh. As I was reading this book, I couldn’t really separate the man that I had met on a few occasions with the man in the pearl-colored Cadillac.
McMurtry was known through the book industry as a wheeler and a dealer for books, as well as anything unusual or rare or beautiful. He was more a collector than a seller, but I’ve known of at least once when he sold off part of his book collection. Unique objects are wonderful to own, but sometimes they get used up, and one must depart on an odyssey for something new, something special.
I just briefly glanced through some of the reviews regarding this book before I started reading it. Like with most of his books, the reviews always seem to say something along the lines of, I’m not a prude, but the sex just got to be too much. I think anytime anyone starts a sentence with I’m not a prude followed by... but... they are defining themselves as a prude. Nothing wrong with that, but it is interesting that they don’t just say the amount of sex in the story made them uncomfortable. They are uncomfortable with their uncomfortableness.
I will close with a few lines that I really liked from the book that couldn’t be worked into the review. ”But a lot of hard-drinking, fast-fucking grandmothers had lost their hero.” Quite the visual McMurtry has placed in your mind, but how about this one? ”The juice of many men would stain her lips for a time, before she reduced them to mulberry-colored pulp.” Stain just really makes that line shudder worthy, or how about the bored, Rubenesque youngsters he meets in a hot tub whorehouse? ”That why we work at the Double Bubble. I’d rather suck off Congressmen than sit around the house.”
Consider yourself duly warned. If you are looking for a book that shows off his literary capabilities, grab a copy of his Pulitzer Prize winning novel Lonesome Dove. For me, I’m going to be thinking about Cadillac Jack for a long time. He might just pull up someday in my driveway with a book so perfect that it cleans out my bank account.
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