I feel like I need to read McMurtry's other works before I can properly review this since it seems to be reflecting and commenting on some of his well-traveled themes, so this will be somewhat of a cursory analysis.
Half way through the book, I started to feel like I was just in the backseat of McMurtry’s protagonist’s El Chevy, being thrown this way and that around the Southwest; rambling along into different worlds with not a lot of direction from Danny or the book. I think I even started mentally asking Danny “Where are we going now?” And when Danny started to look for his pregnant wife (and general whore) Sally, I started to ask myself if McMurtry knows where we are going next.
But just like the way Johnny Carson used to guide even his most rowdy interviews in a precise, controlled way, so does McMurtry lead us to where he wants us. With a cast of characters lining up all around Danny, he’s trying to find at least one person he can connect with. He first looks with just his eyes for someone, which leads him to the soulless, heartless, morally devoid Sally.
My hatred of all characters like Sally, women supposedly looking like angels with demon blood running through them, dragged me and the book down. Fortunately, Danny smartens up in San Francisco and leaves her. I, at least, felt the weight lift off of me, but Danny seems hopelessly rudderless.
He finds himself plucked into literary parties and drug-fueled communes, always acutely aware of how out of place he is. And when he goes to L.A., he finally finds one woman, Jill, he feels mentally at home with…but unlike his carnal relationship with Sally, he can’t physically become one with her. Again, he’s rejected from having a world.
Then there’s the bizarre and utterly surreal visit to his uncle's, where, obscenely, a ranch hand keeps screwing everything that has a hole (mostly inanimate objects). The slaughter of the goats was wretchedly gruesome. Too much gore for both Danny and me, so I was happy he left. But reading the afterward in the book (this is where my lack of experience with McMurtry hurts me), the reviewer talks about this episode as McMurtry declaring the death of the Old West.
We know that Danny has written a book much like McMurtry’s “Horseman, Pass By,” which I haven’t read yet, but do know that the movie “Hud,” one my favorites, was based on that novel. The film is about a young man who would’ve been a cowboy in an older era, but in the time he’s living in, he doesn’t have a range to ride on, and it destroys him.
Danny is way too sensitive and odd to be a cowboy, but he, too, doesn’t have a place. At the end of the book, he begins to understand that he is permanently in the hinterland of life. He’ll never be in the center of any community, always an outsider, somewhere between normalcy and insanity (just like every great writer). And at the end of his speedy search for an Eve for his garden, which he does by sleeping with multiple women, multiple times in one night, he realizes that probably no one will ever reside in his world.
You can’t help but wonder what happened to the dear, hapless Danny. I hope he found his peace, and finally drowned that bitch Sally.