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For Laura Furman’s Heroines New York Ennui, New Life in Houston By Mallory Young Stephenville IADMIT that I had never heard of Laura Furman until she moved from New York to Houston. Since that time, though, her name has shown up everywhere I’ve turned. Laura Furman is one of those literary orphans the Texas writers’ community has adopted with eager and open arms. Creative writing posts, the Dobie Paisano Fellowship, all of the few and precious honors Texas has to offer its writers, have been promptly and gleefully handed over. And no wonder. Not only do her stories appear regularly in the New Yorker, not only is her work noticed with favorable nods by the New York Times Book Review and the Washington Post Book World, but her books materialize faster than frost on a New York windshield: Laura Furman has come out with three books in three years, all with a major national publisher. The Shadow Line, the only novel of the three, has received the largest share of attention, partly, I assumed, because it’s set in Houston, partly because it’s a novel. But I’ve decided, now that I’ve read all three Furman books, that the attention is deserved for other, weightier reasons. The reviewers were right: it’s a fine book. If you’ve taken as long as I did to get around to it \(it was published Except for Barbara Pym’s excellent Mildred Lathbury, I can’t think of a single heroine in my recent experience that I’ve cared about as much as Liz Gold. In fact, now that I’ve finished the novel, I find myself missing Liz, with her silk shirts and her thrift shopping and, her annoying, endearing insecurities. I can’t help wondering, now and again, what she’s doing these days. And then there’s Furman’s Houston living, breathing, pulsating, smelling. I won’t claim to miss it; but Furman’s Mallory Young teaches English at Tarleton State University. 6 DECEMBER 9, 1983 book made that huge, unwieldy mass of a place real for me in a way real life never did the old life/art truism proving true once again. Furman has been mildly criticized for the novel’s rather melodramatic moneyand-murder plot, and I can understand THE GLASS HOUSE: A NOVELLA AND STORIES By Laura Furman Viking. 192 pages. $10.95. 1980 THE SHADOW LINE By Laura Furman. Viking. 270 pages. $14.95. 1982 WATCH TIME FLY By Laura Furman. Viking. 184 pages. $14.95. 1983 why; I did find the conclusion to the mystery slightly contrived myself. But my temptation is to praise her for it. Thank the gods of contemporary fiction that something happens, that a serious writer has had the courage to give us a hardshell plot. No, I won’t be one to quibble about it especially since the book does such a skillful job of weaving the plot with the past. Liz Gold has come to Texas with the time-honored motive of escaping an uncomfortable, tangled, guilt-ridden former life. Naturally her past makes the move with her and insists upon cutting into her thoughts as sharply as the strange smells of her new home city. Liz’s success, her survival in Texas or anywhere, will mean confronting it, reconciling herself to it, and that is what she does, or is about to do, in the novel’s last line, as she heads off to join her Texas lover on business in New York. Liz is ready to confront her past and commit herself to her future in the same moment. There’s no suggestion that life will be easy, that Texas will solve her problems it has, Liz discovers, a past of its own but Liz Gold is ready to live it. Laura Furman has convinced me of that. After finishing The Shadow Line, I looked forward with piqued interest to the new collection of short stories, Watch Time Fly. I didn’t much care for Furman’s first collection, The Glass House, but this one, I hoped, would have a new infusion of Houston energy. I should have known better: no one types that fast. The stories in this book are New York stories; judging by the copyright dates, a good number of these ten tales originally appeared just about the same time as those in the first collection. I didn’t expect, of course, to meet people here that I would miss later on. A short story can’t do that; but there are lots of things a short story can do, and Laura Furman’s don’t. It’s no surprise to me, though, that they’re widely published and respected. They’re perfect New Yorker fare: those stories that leave me feeling vaguely queasy and dissatisfied, that strip me of all desire to look deeper, that glide on out of my memory the moment they enter. To use the terms a friend of mine applies to basketball players, these stories are all style, no sauce. They’ve subtled and sophisticated themselves right out of meaning and substance. Laura Furman is a master of the genre. Her protagonists no, the word is a bit strong, let’s just say “characters” all run together for they are really one character: she’s a lonely 30 or 35 ish woman, dissatisfied with life in the City and no happier in the upper N.Y. state countryside where she visits friends who’ve made it or retires herself once she’s given up trying. She has trouble reconciling the City’s glamorous reputa