"All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers" is a 1972 novel by Larry McMurtry, the writer most famous for Lonesome Dove and The Last Picture Show. The book takes place in 1962 in Texas, and while it does have a Texas setting, it lacks some of the "Western" theme of McMurtry's writing, since it deals with college students and incipient hippies in urban Houston, rather than more rural themes. The book is probably somewhat semi-autobiographical, since its protagonist is a novelist of the same age as McMurtry, who like him is attending Rice University. This book is part of a loose-knit series of five novels. The book that follows is it is the novel Terms of Endearment, whose primary character is a secondary character in this book. Because I read only this book, the second in the series, there is a chance that I may have lost some subtext.
Danny is a novelist attending Rice University. He meets a woman at a party and marries her. His next door neighbor tries to seduce him, but instead him and his wife move to San Francisco. While there, she has an affair and they split up. On a trip to Los Angeles to pitch a movie, he meets another woman and they move in together, even though his wife is pregnant. He then takes some hallucinogens with the Merry Pranksters, drives across the country, meets a crazy uncle, pushes a man off the balcony, and has sex with some prostitutes. Also, at one point, he has sex with two married women within a few hours of each other.
Does this sound like a laundry list of incidents? IT does, but that is what the book reads like. I didn't find it awful, and it could be that it is a stylistic choice. The action of the book, after all, keeps on moving, and I was never bogged down. But the main character (up until the last few chapters) shows very little involvement in the events that go on around him. This is doubly bewildering because he is a protegee novelist, and yet the motivations of those around him (and even of himself) remain a mystery to him, barely addressed. It is like reading a book about a famous chef who eats only Top Ramen. It could be that this is a deliberate choice of McMurtry's, the entire point of the novel, that the narrator is unaware of everything of importance going on around him.
But where that fails is that this book is meant to be a Bildungsroman. The way adulthood seems to work is that as a young person, you are shown slices of the world. These slices are flat, and incomplete. At a certain point, you realize that what is going on in your head and what is going on in the world are incompatible. You have to make a picture of the world that fits in with how you feel inside, but there will always be some friction between thoughts and actions. For example, when Danny throws a man off a balcony, it would seem that there would be more anxiety about both the objective problems with this action (the threat of arrest or imprisonment) and the subjective emotional turmoil this would cause. But the narrator just exists and moves on to his next adventure. Even the smallest actions of maturing can usually not accomplished without a mixture of anxiety and excitement. But here the narrator takes a cross-country trip high on mescaline, tries to murder a man and then has sex with two married women, and seems to reflect on it very little.
As mentioned, I kept on reading. The book does work on that level. And it could be that the very thing that I am puzzling about is done deliberately. But I wonder if the book's flat tone and lack of introspection is a result of a generational shift in what it means to come to terms with the world.