Larry McMurtry is a prolific author with many books and screenplays under his belt. Lonesome Dove won a Pulitzer Prize and was converted to a television series. He co-wrote the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain.
The Late Child is a sequel to The Desert Rose. I was not able to find the book to re-read for a long time. It was on my wishlist and one day I discovered that a vendor had put up his copy for sale. It was a delight to re-read this wonderful book once more.
Once more I delved into the life of Harmony Palmer who was once the prettiest showgirl in Vegas. She now works in a recycling factory and lives in Las Vegas with her current boyfriend and her five year old son, Eddie. The story opens with Harmony getting a letter from a friend (who also claims to have been the lover of) her daughter, Pepper. She died of AIDS. Harmony has a hysterical fit which scares her boyfriend off. He takes to his heels. The only thing that grounds Harmony is the need to take care of her son.
Her friend, Juliette comes to her aid and helps her call up her sisters in Oklahoma. Her sisters drop everything and come to help Harmony in this difficult time. One thing leads to another and Harmony finds herself on a road trip. Her belongings are stuffed into a U-Haul, pulled by a car borrowed from Gary (her best friend), trying to drive to Oklahoma via New York.
She wants to go to New York to meet Laurie, the girl who wrote to Harmony about Pepper's death. Her son, Eddie is keen to go up the statue of Liberty.
Her eventful road trip is punctuated by the pain she feels at the loss of her daughter. Harmony has to learn how to come to terms with her grief and also decide what she wants to do next. Should she settle down in Tarwater, Oklahoma with the rest of her family or return to Las Vegas.
She also gets to see the mess her sisters, Neddie and Pat, are in. Her brother is in the prison for stalking a girl, but seems very happy there. Her mother has turned into a terrible shrew and her father is ready to walk out on her. She sees them all facing their troubles and understands that facing troubles is a part of life.
As in The Desert Rose, we are again captivated by Harmony Palmer. She retains her innate decency no matter what she faces. She draws comfort from her beautiful and sparkling son, Eddie. Her close friends, Juliette and Gary, are always around her. Her kind nature prompts her to be nice to everyone, a trait we see replicated in Eddie.
I loved this portrait of people who live in a glamorous place like Las Vegas, yet are far removed from the glitter. The ordinary people who are has-been Showgirls, Security Staff, Fashion designers etc. who work in the shadow of bright lights. Then there is the limited life of a small town like Tar Water in Oklahoma, where kids do not know what to do.
Even in New York, we get to meet people who live in dumpsters and are to scared to move out of there and go any place else. Eddie and Harmony (accompanied by her sisters), meet up with a trio of drivers Omar, Salah and Abdul who are described as Sikhs masquerading as Muslims. It struck a bit of a discordant note in me. If this was true, then just a while later, it must have backfired badly when the USA was rocked by anti-Muslim sentiment post 9/11.
This bit notwithstanding, the book is a rich portrait of ordinary people, happy in their small lives, besieged by sudden troubles and learning to cope, like all people do.