Larry McMurtry and Charles Williams

June 11, 2007

The other day I was thinking about tarot cards, and books about tarot cards, and I recalled my search for The Greater Trumps by Charles Williams, and how it came to involve Larry McMurtry. The Greater Trumps is a novel, first published in 1932, and not the easiest title to find. Williams was, to my mind, an interesting man who wrote about things spiritual and magical, a contemporary of C.S. Lewis, and in the words of T.S. Eliot, “There are no novels anywhere quite like them. He really believes in what he is talking about.”

Back in the 1970’s, I was in Washington, D.C., visiting friends, and one of them, a writer named Jeanne Schinto, suggested we go to a bookstore in Georgetown owned by Larry McMurtry. I thought that was a swell idea. The lights were on, the door was open, we went inside. In the center of the shop, Mr. McMurtry was seated opposite another man, and they were talking. I did my best to find the W’s in fiction, looking for Charles Williams for a few minutes, but without success. So, as politely as possible, I stepped within range of the shop’s owner and said, as softly as I could, “Excuse me…”

McMurtry turned to me and looked up as if I had entered his home, climbed the stairs and startled him at his dressing table. “Do you have any books by Charles Williams?” I asked. He said, “No, we do not have any books by Charles Williams.” The words “No” and “not” were frosty with disdain, and on “Charles Williams” he splashed some contempt as well, recoiling from the name as it left his mouth and turning back to his conversation.

I said, “Thank you” to his hunched shoulders, and retreated to the shop’s front door, with Jeanne leading the way. Outside, she said, “Kihm, that was Larry McMurtry.” And I said, “But… it is a bookstore, isn’t it? He does sell books, right?” She shook her head at my naivete.

Later that year, I did find a copy of Williams’ book. The clerk on that occasion took my money, smiled, put the book in a bag, handed it back to me, wished me a nice day. I remember it was sunny.

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