to Edith Sumners Kelley’s Weeds, the one masterpiece of this genre. In general, the best Texas books of this period confuse honesty with artistry. Their writers produced, without selfconsciousness, what might be called novels of information, for readers who had not yet grown accustomed to getting their information off a television screen. Such writers told it like it was, but unfortunately didn’t tell it very well, and their books now have only a period interest. In the mid-fifties a considerably more interesting generation began to be heard from, its principal voices being John Graves, William Humphrey, William Goyen, and John Howard Griffin, all of whom differed significantly from the Texas writers who had come before them. In their differing ways they were our first literary aesthetes, the first writers after Miss Porter to feel that literature should be elegant as well as honest. Also, they were internationalists, well-educated and well-travelled; and all had been to school to the masters of modern literature. They were more likely to echo Faulkner or Joyce or the French Symbolists than to imitate J. Frank Dobie or Roy Bedichek. The most obvious thing that can be said about this gifted group is that they have not produced very many books. Granting that the three or four best books Goodbye to a River, The Ordways, The House of Breath, The Devil Rides Outside are among our very best books, it seems nonetheless a slim yield. Perhaps an admirable desire to put quality over quantity has held their yield down or then again it may be that in their travels they acquired a rather more Mediterranean outlook on life than is common between the Red River and the Rio Grande. They have managed the nice trick of sustaining their ambitions without being absolutely driven by them, in the process acquiring a balance that may be good for their souls while keeping a brake on their output. John Graves likes to farm, William Humphrey likes to fish, William Goyen enjoys living in L.A., and none seem much interested in slighting their absorbing pursuits in order to write the Great Texas Novel. Each has made it plain that he doesn’t intend to be a blind slave to the Protestant work ethic. Two of them, Griffin and Humphrey, seem to have been pressed into fiction by the force of one compelling traumatic experience, the like of which never happened again. In the case of the late John Howard Griffin, this resulted in an odd, lop-sided career, of the sort that often happens when a writer has the always serious, usually fatal misfortune to write his best book first. The Devil Rides Outside, has the lonely distinction of being the best French novel ever published in Fort Worth. It is a strange, strong book whose verbal energy a quality very rare in our fiction still seems remarkable after almost 30 years. In the mostly all-toohealthy and sunlit world of Texas fiction, the book remains an anomaly, dark, feverish, introverted, claustrophobic, tortured. It was so complete and so explosive an outpouring of intellectualized emotion that Griffin seemed, from then on, a sort of emptied man. His second novel, Nuni, had neither energy nor force. He then wrote a history of a Midland bank, and finally, perhaps in desperation, turned himself black, in a last effort to find something strong to write about. There are reports that Griffin left at least one completed novel, perhaps several. When these are published his career may seem less strangely truncated then is the case now. William Humphrey has had a considerably more satisfying, not to mention more intelligible development. The short stories collected in The Last Husband, his first book, were fairly conventional, but did make clear that he was working toward a style of his own, one which was not to mature fully until The Ordways. Home from the Hill succeeds to the extent that it does on the strength of the story and is actually somewhat hindered by the style, which had not yet worked itself clear of Southern portentousness and Faulknerian hype. Full clarity came with The Ordways, in 1964, a beautifully crafted novel which turns the traditional family chronicle into a kind of dance of the generations. The Ordways is funny, moving, elegantly written and firmly controlled. It was as if a less prolix Thackaray had turned his attention to East Texas, though rather too briefly, as it now appears. In the succeeding 17 years Humphrey has produced a couple of fishing books and a graceful memoir, but no more novels. One of the fishing books, The Spawning Run, is very charming, but I would still rather have a successor to The Ordways. And of course, we may get it. There is no indication that William Humphrey is exhausted, or even tired. Like Humphrey, William Goyen is an East Texan who adroitly managed to escape both the region and the state. Goyen, too is a stylist; in fact he is probably more styled-obsessed than any Texas writer. It was language, rather than story, that immediately marked The House of Breath as something new in Texas letters. There had been no sentences quite that well-considered, in our Good books in every field JENKINS PUBLISHING CO. The Pemberton Press John H. Jenkins, Publisher Box 2085 6 Austin 78768 ginnys ‘ COPYING SERVICE Copying Binding Printing Color Copying Graphics Word Processing Austin Lubbock San Marcos LUNCH ON THE RIVER OR THE BALCONY BRUNCH ON SUNDAY! … and Sandwiches, Chili, Tacos, Chalupas, and restaurant baked desserts. Haagen Dazs Ice Cream and fresh yoghurt. Soup and salad bar. 11:30 am until 5:00 pm Monday thru Sunday. 224-4515 the greenhouse Above the Kangaroo Court Downtown Riverwalk 314 North Presa San Antonio, Texas THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13
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