The Desert Rose

ISBN: 0684853841
ISBN 13: 9780684853840
By: Larry McMurtry

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About this book

Pulitzer Prize-winner Larry McMurtry writes novels set in the American heartland, but his real territory is the heart itself. His gift for writing about women -- their love for reckless, hopeless men; their ability to see the good in losers; and their peculiar combination of emotional strength and sudden weakness -- makes The Desert Rose the bittersweet, funny, and touching book that it is. Harmony is a Las Vegas showgirl. At night she's a lead dancer in a gambling casino; during the day she raises peacocks. She's one of a dying breed of dancers, faced with fewer and fewer jobs and an even bleaker future. Yet she maintains a calm cheerfulness in that arid neon landscape of supermarkets, drive-in wedding chapels, and all-night casinos. While Harmony's star is fading, her beautiful, cynical daughter Pepper's is on the rise. But Harmony remains wistful and optimistic through it all. She is the unexpected blossom in the wasteland, the tough and tender desert rose. Hers is a loving portrait that only Larry McMurtry could render.

Reader's Thoughts

Tom Leland

My first McMurtry...makes me wonder if he always writes like this...sentences written much as a very casual, mediocre writer might...anyway, I bet it's quite accurate/realistic in terms of the free and simplistic attitude toward sex and relationships and exhibitionism and life itself, in the Las Vegas show community.One of those works that seems so one-dimensional on the surface, but a multi-dimensional reader will draw bigger things from it...


I'm still reading this book, and finding it hard to get through. The characters don't seem that well developed, and I feel like it's really non-descriptive and boring. I chose it based on the subject: an aging Las Vegas showgirl who raises peacocks. Could have been fascinating, but it's not.

Jody Dickerson

Not great Larry. It only got a three because I like you and you wrote it during a break from writing Lonesome Dove, so I guess your genius was all used up!


I don't know why I chose to read another McMurtry novel after not being able to finish the first one. I know his novels are old, but how in the heck did this guy win a Pulitzer? He admitted he finished the book in three weeks, and it reads like it. There's no elegance, no flow, nothing except some stereotypical characters who were interesting enough to keep me reading to the end. (I wanted to find out what happens to the optimistic and naive main character.) Still, there's so many novelists who are better at their craft that Larry McMurtry has to come off the reading list.


loved it

Debbie Reschke Schug

This wasn’t the most profound book, nor did it have the most beautifully written passages, but it was a treat to read. I finished this in the time span of two plane rides (one of them really, really bumpy). The characters are so fully flushed and vibrant, it’s hard not to love all of them. I even loved Pepper, although McMurtry writes in his forward that he didn’t mean to make her as much as a monster as she turned out. But I really understood why she was the way she was…with a mother like Harmony, it’s easy to get. That’s not to say I didn’t find Harmony sweet and kind. She was, too much so, and that’s why she was flawed as a person and a mother. Of course, it doesn’t take much insight into the human condition to comprehend her either. None of the characters in the book do, and that’s why it was so much fun to read. I felt like I was sitting outside their messy Vegas abode, watching the peacocks as the day passed us by.Lifestyles like theirs are fun to read about because their world is so different than mine. And people in Vegas and the surrounding area really do have an alternate form of reality. An ex-coworker of mine once told me a story when he was working in a TV station in those parts and a new hire showed up for her first day. He could smell alcohol on her breath, so almost ashamedly he asked if she had been drinking (this guy was a pretty mild mannered person, but had a legal obligation to at least ask). The woman very casually said, “Oh yeah, I always have a beer or two when I’m getting ready for work.” That woman could’ve been the real Harmony.


This is a small book for Larry McMurtry, but the subject was fascinating to me: a look at the life of a showgirl in Las Vegas about 20 years ago. I found it realistic but touching.

L. Peat

Fun read about low down life in Las Vegas.

Brooke Spencer

I mostly just felt bored and sorry for all of the characters.

Paul Parsons

Written in 1983, this is a behind the scenes look at the lives of dancers in Vegas. Maudline and humerous at times, this is typical McMurtry; no real beginning or end, just a slice of life, and not a very enviable one at that.

Kristen Morris

from the author of Lonesome Dove and Terms of Endearment, comes this novel about an aging Los Vegas Showgirl and her beautiful daughter. Author is very skilled at instilling characters mood to the author. Both women, are hopeless and rather dismal-- resulting in a bleak and depressing read. However the fact you feel like this after reading Desert Rose is testament to great writing.


I thought that the characters deserved more of an ending. The end of the book suggests that the aging Vegas showgirl and her up-and-coming, dancing daughter are destined to repeat all their mistakes and that nothing will really change... it's probably realistic, but I wanted more.


Larry McMurtry has always has a gift for engulfing you in the life of his characters. It is amazing to me that he can write about women with such accuracy-I wonder if he had lots of sisters. This is a story of a Vegas showgirl gone old and all that comes with it. A great read.


Some 39th birthday present Harmony got. Her 16 year old daughter, who dosen't want to tell her anything, gets hired as the new lead dancer at the casino. So Harmony ends up loosing her job because the manager doesn't want her there any more. Pepper {daughter} also finally lets mom know that she is getting married to some old rich guy who likes to potograph nude boys and Pepper in old bras and panties. Harmony's friends are strange, just as strange as her life is if you think about it.

D.H. Benson

Larry McMurtry is an excellent writer but this is not one of his best books. Unlike his best books which are set in rural Texas, this book is set in Las Vegas. The protaganist, Harmony, is an aging but still gorgeous showgirl. The book chronicles her chaotic love life, dwindling career prospects and dysfunctional relationship with Pepper, her teenage daughter. It's an enjoyable read but can't compare to other McMurtry books such as "Lonesome Dove" and "Last Picture Show."

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