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BOOKS AND THE CULTURE r HAD THE WORLD been a different place for women in the 1950s, Shelby Hearon says, she might have been a scientist. “A novel is like a problem to me,” she explained in an interview during a recent visit to Texas. “I set a problem: What if you had this opposition? What would result and what would it cost everyone involved?” More complex in structure than Group Therapy, her previous novel, A Small Town has the author attempting themes that are more mythic. Hearon has set this tale away from the dry central Texas where she attended university and lived and taught while her children grew up. She has, instead, chosen to write about Venice, Missouri, a small town where the cultural memory of a devastating 1811 earthquake and flood still lingers. has has imbued A Small Town with the Bible and Shakespeare. This is the stuff of an “eye for an eye” from the Old Testament and “a pound of flesh” from the Merchant of Venice. In 1811, the Mississippi River parted like the Red Sea and tried to swallow the town whole. A century ,and a half later, the rain again falls forty days and forty nights on the just and unjust in Venice, while Alma van der Linden, the protagonist, plans her high school graduation party with an Ark theme, a theme of deliverance from the small town. ‘Y. But Alma as a teenage.girl is not going to be delivered out of Venice. Instead, she is delivered into-the adult world by means of a body developed to fit the contours of the pointed bras she had envied her older’ . sisters wearing. IS’a Flaunting all her arts that bounce and wiggle brings her to the attention of tliat most adult figure to the high school:el, the high school pflncipal.-‘After a sexual encounter between Alma and the principal, Louis le Croix, he -takes ovel her college plans, purchases the van der Linden family .’house, and, after a respectable wait \(and divorce from the Marshall Sur ratt is editor of a North Texas newspaper, The Allen Leader. I The teenage Lolita assumes the role of the well-mannered wife and mother. In Group Therapy, Hearon had repre, sented her central figure’s Conflict in a decision between two places. Ludt Sayre uproots herself &Pm central Texas, where landscape and family have marked her, to take a teaching position in New York State. In that book, Hearon A SMALL TOWN By Shelby Hearon Atheneum, New York, 19e5 335 pp., $15.95 untrueilo the book.” In Small Town, Alma has tried to control the events in her life. As a teaches aide, she gets back at the other students who are taking advantage of a teacher going blind. For their pranks, she *.writes harsh comments on their papers, comments that are justified but something only a peer could see in another student’s work. Later, as a reporter for the weekly newspaper, she participates in an ordering of the official record of history of the small town. With her editor, Hydrangea Pickens, she plans, in advance of gathering the news, the next week’s edition of the paper. “In the novel you have an individual out of sync with society.” Shelby Hearon Throughout the book, Alma wants to really belong to something. Not being able to participate in the lives of her sisters Gloria and Greta, she wants to be “Zeba” to Reba and Sheba, her classmates who are twin sisters. As an adult, Alma tries to write “a novel about twins, consumed to tell the fictional tale of the urge to repeat, the desire s to be two.” She says about her affair, Most of my time not with him which wasn’t spent in’ writing was given over to daydreaming. To imagine how it might be to be a public twosome. “Alma and Dyer” rolling off people’s lips the way they said “Maudie and Jimmy;” Alma and Dyer in a cozy house all their own, not Marie’s, not Uncle Grady’s, but a new one, all ours; us having friends over for smoked ribs in the backyard, churning peach ice cream for all my children and his to celebrate the end of summer. Alma and Dyer sitting on their sofa, arms lightly around one another plying Hydrangea with wine and Monk with pineapple juice; coaxing anecdotes fromSheba about the old, funny days when Reba was here; piling a second helping of cake on the eager pharmacist’s plate, finding out if the old postmistress.:was really her mother and if she knew but wasn’t telling who her daddy might be. Nice, long gossipy evenings in Alma and Dyer’s new living room: the town at home with the couple, the new couple at home with the town. Shelby Hearon draws the secrets and desires of a small town, along with truths that never get told. But, to her credit, she never gives us simple answers. In the end, only after seeing her life as a child repeated as an adult, can Alma seek reconciliation with her father. But, by that time, things have fallen apart in Alma’s life and in Venice, Missouri. Places in the Mind By Marshall Surratt worked to establish that Lutie’s life was ordered by the constancy pf many small inanimate objects. In A Small Town, Hewn moves this struggle inside he characters. So the reader sees Alma as a Child and Alma as an adult. The boolelis laced with enough comic detail about the behavior of various characters to keep it from being morose. But still, there is that deepest fear and promise of the Old Testament, that our sins will come back to us in our children and grandchildren. Alma wants justice i tvhen, as a child, site believes her fathek commits adultery amid mercy for herself when, as an adult, she has an affair and is seen through her children’s eyes “I see the novel as easier to tell the truth than a short story,” Hearon said. “In the novel you have an indivi4ual out , of step with society. I think that’s it fair statement of what the novel is, you’re out of sync With society, hpwevet 4you define society. So you have time In a novel to show what that -cultite is a> . why that person is not fitting in there-. It seems o me th’k you’re not forced to .,:cnding .th which you say, \\411, now everythinifs fine and she was selected pre’ident of her Women’s Club and made up with’ter husband and her son came home and said, `Gee, Mom, you’re swell,’ because then you’re being THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21