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Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry
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Terms of Endearment (original 1975; edition 1989)

by Larry McMurtry

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6811014,027 (3.93)17
Member:mjscott
Title:Terms of Endearment
Authors:Larry McMurtry
Info:Simon & Schuster (1989), Paperback, 410 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:Daughter, Iowa, Cancer, Fiction, 1983

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Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry (1975)

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The film is about the thirty-year mother-daughter relationship between two women: stubborn brunette Emma (Debra Winger) and her devoted, possessive, blond, widowed mother Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine).

Before the opening credits, the film portrays Aurora as a worried, new mother who checks on her baby every five minutes in the middle of the night and imagines the worst. In the baby's bedroom, she stares at the crib of her infant daughter and imagines crib death: "Rudyard, she's not breathing." She shakes her baby out of its quiet and peaceful sleep, causing the infant to wail — and Aurora to claim: "That's better."

Later, as a young adult, Emma rebels against Aurora's attentions, and against her advice marries literature student Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels). As the independent-minded, individualistic Emma is getting in the car with her family to move from Houston, Texas to Des Moines, Iowa, away from her managing mother, she tells her:

“ Mama, that's the first time I stopped hugging first. I like that. ”

As they suffer from unpaid bills (in a wrenching supermarket scene, young Teddy (Huckleberry Fox) hands back a Clark candy bar to the checkout clerk with a simple: "I don't need it"), young mother Emma also discovers that her feckless husband, a college literature professor, is unfaithful and sleeping with one of his graduate students, and she retaliates with her own brief affair with a timid Iowa bank officer Sam Burns (John Lithgow).

Meanwhile, middle-aged Aurora dodges the womanizing flirtations of her next-door neighbor, a boozy, beer-bellied, over-the-hill, former astronaut Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson), even though she has turned 50 and is now free to date. They have a nervous December-December love affair — on their first, much-delayed luncheon date, he boldly tells the proper, well-mannered and stiff Bostonian woman wearing a frilly pink dress:

Breedlove: "You're just going to have to trust me about this, this one thing. You need a lot of drinks."

Aurora: "To break the ice?"

Breedlove: "To kill the bug that you have up your ass."

In an unforgettable scene after lunch, Aurora and Breedlove ride in his silver Corvette as he drunkenly steers with his feet, sitting on the open roof and yelling: "Breedlove at the helm! Just keep pumping that throttle!" Soon after he cries: "Fly me to the moon," he is projected from the car into the water of the Gulf of Mexico. She splashes out in the knee-deep water to apologize and ask "How are you?" Characteristically, he jokes:

“ If you wanted to get me on my back, you just had to ask me. ”

Although they kiss, she fights back when his hand reaches for her breast inside her blouse, and accuses him of ruining their time together by getting drunk. When they arrive back home and she invites him in, he replies: "I'd rather stick needles in my eyes." Their barbed conversation continues:

“ Breedlove: I'll tell ya, Auror-eye, I don't know what it is about you, but you do bring out the devil in me. ”

Although she considers Breedlove "arrogant, self-centered, and yes, a somewhat entertaining man," she phones him up and invites him to her bedroom one evening soon after to look at a Renoir painting as a pretext for sex (after fifteen years of celibacy): "I'm inviting you to come over and look at my Renoir." He quickly interprets her meaning: "You're inviting me to bed." And she responds: "Yes, it happens to be in my bedroom." Again, he cajoles and cackles: "Is the Renoir under the covers?" The self-indulgent, horny playboy deliberately stalls and carries on a double-entendre conversation:

Even though she calls herself a "grandmother," they clench and kiss voraciously. They stand on opposite sides of her bed for a final confrontation — and the strong-willed Aurora wins.

The lights go off.

In the heartbreaking, unexpected, tragic, cathartic and touching finale, Emma is hospitalized and dying of cancer. She is slowly reconciled with her mother during her terminal illness. In a stunning hospital scene, Aurora runs completely around the hospital desk while yelling at two hospital nurses to give her ailing daughter a pain-killing shot.

Emma says a final goodbye to her two young sons Teddy and bratty Tommy (Troy Bishop) in her Lincoln General Hospital room just before her death. After she has makeup applied to her face to cover her pale pallor, she speaks to them, but is unable to break through to her distant, over-critical oldest son Tommy.

After a hug from Teddy and a reluctant kiss from Tommy, she asks Teddy as he leaves the room: "I was so scared. And I think it went pretty well, don't you?"

Soon after, she expires with one final glance at Aurora as Flap sleeps unawares. Aurora blames herself: "I'm so stupid, so stupid. Somehow, I thought, somehow I thought when she finally went that — that it would be a relief. Oh, my sweet little darling. Oh dear, there's nothing harder."

After the funeral, Garrett supportively pays special attention to Emma's long-neglected son.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
I did not like it that much. The only good things about it was the superb writing and the memorable characters. However, I did not really like the plot. I got a feeling that this was supposed to be a mother-daughter book but it really wasn't. It was actually a mother and her suitors, and daughter and her love affairs. If this was published today they might be called sluts and bitches. The ending was actually pretty good but I think the author wasted a lot of pages for that. The beginning was too detailed and silly while the ending was too rushed and dramatic. No balance for this book. ( )
  krizia_lazaro | Mar 17, 2014 |
Someone who loved the movie but who has not read the book gave it to me without realising that, apparently, they cannot be more different. Still, I enjoyed the characters and the humour and the impossibly self-centered mother in her universe of people circling her, seemingly without making a dent in her own orbit. I loved the dialogues and was caught between being appaled and wishing I could deliver such spectacular lashes of words myself. I was so surprised to see there is a man who knows women well, or at least who has had the opportunity to see their motivations close up. An excellent book, even if it did not convey the message of the film. I will definitely try to get hold of the film, to see it, I am really curious now. ( )
  flydodofly | Nov 10, 2012 |
Terms of Endearment is the kind of book that makes you feel things. Larry McMurtry has the ability to make you change your mind about the people you meet...several times over. In the beginning I saw Terms as a story about a bunch of miserable people. I was shocked by the hatred these people carried around (see 'shocking quotes' below). I didn't think I would like a single character. I saw Aurora as nasty and Emma as just plain pathetic. By the end of the book I had completely changed my mind about everything and everyone.
The premise for Terms of Endearment is really quite simple. It's the story of a mother and daughter and the relationships that orbit around them. Aurora is a Boston widow transplanted to Houston, Texas. She has five different "suitors" who tolerate her abrasive tongue and haughty manner and despite all that, continuously vie for her hand in marriage. At first she appears caustic and self-centered. Selfish and conniving, she bends situations to suite her ever-changing needs. Her story takes up the first 324 pages and by the end of it you realize she is a woman of conviction who simply tells it like it is. Emma, her daughter, at first appears to be one of Aurora's victims - always manipulated and belittled. The strength of their relationship and the depth of their love for one another isn't readily apparent until life gets complicated for Emma. Emma hasn't married well. She hasn't been educated and she has bad hair. On the surface she is poor and pathetic. But, true to McMurtry form, by the end Emma is a strong, defiant woman.
My only disappointment about Terms of Endearment is the inclusion of Book II, Emma's story. 324 pages are dedicated to Aurora while Emma gets the last 47. I don't really understand the need for separate "books" when Emma's story - her bad marriage to Flap, her pregnancy, her lifestyle and relationship with her mother - are all woven seamlessly into Aurora's story. Emma's portion of the book seems weak and it's inclusion, an afterthought. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Oct 29, 2009 |
This is the book that turned me into a life-long (well, since I first read it 30 years ago) Larry McMurtry fan. It's not perfect but just about as close as an author can get. Incidentally, I found the film unwatchable; I gave up after 30 minutes as it omitted key characters from the book and added at least one new one. The movie bore no relation to the image of the characters I'd created in my mind. ( )
  isaf60 | Oct 14, 2009 |
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Epigraph
Thou art thy mother's glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
So thou through windows of thine age shall see,
Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time....
- Shakespeare, Sonnet III
Dedication
For Cecilia DeGolyer McGhee,
Marcia McGhee Carter,
and Cecilia DeGloyer Carter
First words
"The success of the marriage invariably depends on the woman," Mrs. Greenway said.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0684853906, Paperback)

In this acclaimed novel that inspired the Academy Award-winning motion picture, Larry McMurtry created two unforgettable characters who won the hearts of readers and moviegoers everywhere: Aurora Greenway and her daughter Emma.

Aurora is the kind of woman who makes the whole world orbit around her, including a string of devoted suitors. Widowed and overprotective of her daughter, Aurora adapts at her own pace until life sends two enormous challenges her way: Emma's hasty marriage and subsequent battle with cancer. Terms of Endearment is the Oscar-winning story of a memorable mother and her feisty daughter and their struggle to find the courage and humor to live through life's hazards -- and to love each other as never before.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:35 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Aurora Greenway is the kind of woman who makes the whole world orbit around her, including a string of devoted suitors. Widowed and overprotective of her daughter, Aurora adapts at her own pace until life sends two enormous challenges her way: Emma's hasty marriage and subsequent battle with cancer.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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