Page 19


Strange Peaches: A review By Roxy Gordon Strange Peaches, Edwin Shrake, Harper’s Magazine Press, 375 pages, $7.95. Albuquerque I’ve heard the Hell’s Angels almost exterminated themselves trying to live up to the movie and magazine stories written about them. We are told Janis Joplin got so far into the blues she couldn’t get out. This is to say art is dangerous. Those who are actors choose certain roles and when the roles are no longer roles ; the actors are no longer actors. Kris Kristofferson says, “When you’re headed for the border Lord, you’re bound to cross the line.” John Lee Wallace, the star of Edwin Shrake’s book Strange Peaches is an actor. He used to be the star of a TV western about Texas. Now in 1963, he’s come home to Dallas to make a documentary film about real Texas. It’s a long book and a lot of stuff happens between the first of the book and the last. At the end, John Lee Wallace is in Mexico shooting people with a real gun just like he shot people with a fake gun on TV. And he concludes he’ll get out of the acting business and get into the dope smuggling business. The making of a modern day outlaw, the jacket copy tells us. That’s interesting stuff. The trouble with Strange Peaches, though, is it gets its real and unreal mixed up. THE TEXAS that Shrake seems to give us as real = John Lee’s everyday Dallas world has about as much to do with the Texas I know as Bonanza has to do with Nevada. Or I expect John Lee Wallace’s series has to do with Texas. Shrake’s Texas is familiar; we’ve all visited it before. We saw it in The Gay Place. We’ve seen it in a lot of national magazines and paperback books. We saw it in Giant. There are a lot Roxy Gordon’s second book, Texas Gone North, appears in the fall from the Encino Press. 14 The Texas Observer of crazy rich people in this Texas. Crazy, folksey, humorous, likeable, bloodthirsty. Maybe Dallas is full of that kind of people. I never lived in Dallas so I can’t say for sure. But where I’ve lived in Texas, most people were neither particulary rich nor crazy. They didn’t machine-gun tame rabbits as Shrake has his Dallasites doing. And they never even saw a lion, much less would let one loose to shit all over their friends in the back of a hearse. There’s probably no reason to get into explaining that. It’s just a scene near the beginning of the book where a Dallasite lets a lion loose in the back of a hearse with some of his friends. That’s all. Several real people are about in various disguises. An old fool who wears a bowtie and has all the money in the world is apparently H. L. Hunt. Here he’s called Big Earl. He has a son named Little Earl. Several other real people appear without disguise. Jack Ruby is around and he is sinister. Jack Kennedy is there and he gets his brains blown cut. During the first 3/4 of the book, a lot of rich folks and 1 exas characters get drunk and high and screw around. John Lee and his friend Buster take a lot of dope. John Lee’s sometim3 girlfriend gets pregnant and has somebody else’s kid. The lion is let loose in the hearse; a white turkey shits on Little Earl’s bar and gets shot for the effort. Tame birds are shotgunned and tame rabbits are machine-gunned. A lot of people give John Lee a hard time about his long hair and moustache. When John F. Kennedy gets shot, one might expect this to be a kind of turning point if not a mythic occurrence in the book. But it doesn’t seem to take on that much importance. Buster watches Jack Ruby kill Oswald; people come around hunting the Conspiracy-That-Killed-Kennedy. Buster gets busted for dope. John Lee takes his girlfriend to Mexico, gets mixed up with an old friend who’s smuggling dope and ends up killing a Mexican revolutionary. John Lee, in addition to playing a cowboy-gunman in the TV series, has played Tarzan in one movie, and some kind of international petty-crook in another. His old friend the dope smuggler saw the petty-crook movie and wants John Lee to try his hand at the real thing. \(Big Earl watches the TV show and thinks John Lee tries the real thing; the blood and gore are kind of incredible. There’s a description of the shit that runs down the revolutionary’s leg when he dies. John Lee’s friend is shot in the face and there’s a graphic description of that. John Lee’s girlfriend gets raped by the Mexicans who capture them after the shooting, and the army comes along to save them. His face-shot, dope smuggler friend who’s still alive by the way, and heard of no more in the book wanted to use the money he made from the dope to make a movie about dope smuggling; John Lee, the movie maker, has decided to get out of the movie business and become a dope smuggler. The question is, who’s right? Is a real dope smuggler any more real than a real movie maker? There’s little doubt it’s a lot more dangerous to be a real dope smuggler; witness the real blood and gore. It’s a kind of question most of us ask; all of us who are children of the TV and movie age. One would expect the asking of such a question to rise above Texas cliche tomfoolery. But the book rarely rises. WE’RE GIVEN a short look at John Lee’s past and find he lived for a while in the country somewhere around Dallas. His father had wanted to be a farmer. John Lee went to a rural school where there was a bigger kid who couldn’t showed the little kids how to do it anyway. Now the kid grown up drives around in a pickup, the standard Texas gun in a rack behind his seat. I don’t deny there’s a lot of bigger kids in rural schools who show a lot of smaller kids stuff. I can remember many a mis-pronounciation from my own Texas country school days. And every relative and old friend I own in West Texas drives a pickup around with a couple of guns racked up in the rear window. The point is, however, all that is less meaningful than most Texas writing seems to want us to believe.