My Larry McMurtry experience began when I bought All My Friends Are Going to be Strangers for my Kindle. I originally planned to read Lonesome Dove, but its length intimidated me. I read good things about All My Friends Are Going to be Strangers so I decided to download it. Thus began a fascination with McMurtry's work. I then went back to the beginning, to Horseman, Pass By, and began reading all his novels in the order they were published. All of his novels have left an indelible impression with me that I wish everyone could have after finishing a book.
I have not made it through the entire list of McMurtry books, but here are the novels that McMurtry published prior to 1980, listed in order of Amazon customer review. I have not included non-novel work, which includes In a Narrow Grave, which is a series of essays, and the essay It's Always We Rambled. All of these novels can be found by clicking on the Amazon link to the right of this article.
Horseman, Pass By (1961)
McMurtry's first novel, Horseman, Pass By is a coming-of-age story centering around Lonnie Bannon, a late-teens boy living on a ranch with his grandfather, Homer, and his wild-living uncle Hud. Much of the conflict of the book revolves around the flashiness and materialism of Hud, the old-school values of Homer, and how Lonnie deals with the drama created by the two men he looks up to the most, as opposite as they are.
Horseman, Pass By is a perfect way to jump into Larry McMurtry's work. It is a short book, and will introduce you to McMurtry's style and pace.
The Last Picture Show (1966)
The Last Picture Show is regarded as many as McMurtry's masterpiece (Lonesome Dove aside). It was made into a movie of the same name that helped launch the careers of Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd. The Last Picture Show is also a coming-of-age story about teenage life in small town Texas. It centers around two friends, Sonny and Duane, and their love affair with the beautiful but spoiled Jacy Farrow.
Moving On (1970)
Moving On focuses on the life of Patsy Carpenter, an woman in her early 20s, living life as a wife of a graduate student in Houston. Patsy and her husband, Jim, deal with the struggles of marriage as they each pursue their own passions. This book is very long and has many characters, but that should not discourage you from reading this novel. Just be prepared for crying; Patsy does a lot of it.
Moving On was also McMurtry's novel that did not deal with life on the western frontier, but instead was set primarily in urban Texas.
Leaving Cheyenne (1963)
Leaving Cheyenne is another novel that deals with a love triangle. Gideon Fry and his best friend Johnny McCloud both fall in love with their friend Molly Taylor in early 20th century Texas. The novel is unique in that it is set in three different time periods, with each time period told from a different character's point of view. The novel deals with why people fall in love with each other and why some love affairs never become more serious. While this is not my favorite McMurtry novel, it is the one that I have the most fondness for (if that even makes sense).
All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers (1972)
Continuing the urban theme begun in Moving On, All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers contains some of the same characters, although the main character is new (although he was briefly mentioned in Moving On). Danny Deck is a graduate student and published author that does not quite know how to deal with his notoriety. Danny must deal with fame, fortune, school, and a new wife with a youthful immaturity that we all can identify with. While the drama is not explosive, it is a very well written story that is told in the style that McMurtry's fans have grown to love.
Terms of Endearment (1975)
Most people have heard of Terms of Endearment, but through the movie of the same name. Terms of Endearment tells the tale of Emma (first introduced in Moving On) and her relationship with her mother after Emma's hasty marriage and battle with cancer. McMurtry's depiction of these events are told with stark realism, which we have come to expect from him.
Somebody's Darling (1978)
Somebody's Darling is about a character, Jill Peel, first introduced in All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers. Jill is one of the best directors in Hollywood, but cannot find success with the men in her life. This is McMurtry's first novel not primarily set in Texas.
Larry McMurtry's novels are not rowdy dramas. There are many times when the novels seem to be rambling. But between it all, he is weaving a telling a beautiful story, as if you were sitting listening to him recall tales of his younger life.
If you are looking for a new author to read, McMurtry's work would be a great place to start.