Horgan to do except wait for a fire to put out the Little League game isn’t until the late afternoon. Kidder, however, can think of a lot of things to do with her time when she’s not trying to make a baby. Here she is at the grocery store, practicing her shopping, just in case the doctor has good news for her later in the day: “Oochie, goochie, goochie goo,” Kidder says, rubbing her flat belly and giggling to herself in the Baby Needs aisle of the Eckley Supermarket. . . . She pushes her cart, giggling, hopping on and off occasionally, opening and closing the baby seat, testing the aisle out, another trial run; pushes her cart past the diapers, the boxes of six to thirteen pounders, the twelve to twenty-four pounders, and the nineteen to thirty-five pounders. Goes back to the six to thirteen pounders and puts a box in her cart. She lingers, stalls, back down the aisle toward the checkout lanes, examining a box of Q-tips, a pair of vinyl pants, a trainer cup, lingering, pushing her cart, running her hand over a bib. The pacifier doesn’t seem to bother her, nor the Similac, nor the countless varieties of vitamin-C-added, strained and creamed food. It’s at the end of the aisle where she picks up a soft-bite spoon. She spins, wheels back down the aisle, and reshelves the box of diapers. The striving by Horgan and Kidder for a baby is a sort of paradigm for all of Eckley’s striving against the flat, finite banality of life in the town.’Death, too, is a part of Eckley’s flatness its defining edge. Horgan’s father is dying in the Eckley hospital, and, perhaps, if Kidder can conceive, life in Eckley may prove to be recursive. This, then, is the stuff of A Flatland Fable: Little League, a fire truck, sex, death, and birth. Also, a large cast of minor characters, portrayed with humor and sensitivity: the Little Leaguers Shrugsby, Pillsneck, Sickopoose, and Witherspoon; Ooper, the deranged firebug who commits arson for the greater glory of God; and Ackton, the county deputy sheriff under Miss Eckley’s thumb. Also Joe, Horgan’s dying father. But there is more to Flatland than Coomer’s detailed chronicle of Horgan’s day spent among these people in Eckley; there is mystery, too, as Horgan learns when Dutton, Horgan’s father’s best friend, brings him a piece of news that changes his life forever. I don’t want to give away a significant and surprising turn in the plot, but I will reveal that Horgan is dead wrong when he thinks that, “this place is so flat .. . I never thought you could hide anything.” There are mysteries hidden within mysteries in Eckley, and some of Coomer’s main characters are bound together in ways undreamed of by Horgan. By the end of the novel’s day it is apparent to Horgan that there are plenty of places in his flat land where things can hide. Coomer reveals directly a few of the hidden mysteries and lets the reader guess at the rest. Life, Coomer seems to be saying, can be mysterious and strange even in a place as flat and dull as Eckley. Hence, the book’s title. By “fable” I take Coomer to mean, following Webster’s Third, “a narration intended to enforce some useful truth or precept.” The “truth” Joe Coomer brings in his wonderfully crafted new novel is that there is change, surprise, evolution, and regeneration in life, even if that life is lived in a “far, flat place” where nothing spectacular ever seems to happen. Bobbie Ann Mason and Raymond Carver have similar cautionary tales to tell. But even so, Coomer puts a peculiar spin on the ball, and pitches his own game. He makes a beautiful and complex thing from simple at-hand stuff a Little League game, a fire truck, a grain elevator stuff of life and of our traffic with each other. Here is Horgan, near the end of the “fable,” on the baseball field: And Horgan thinks, this is the life I have been waiting for. My God. I love my days. And then he does not know what to think, and finally he thinks that the thing to think is that life is what happens while you are waiting for something else. 0 AS ITS TITLE hints, this is a book rather forcibly about the failure of an American dream, in a Texas landscape. The title is a quote from a schoolboy’s prayer, composed for a performance of a school play on Columbus Day. Dear God, thank you for our safe trip. It was hard but we’re here now and we know the world’s round. Everything’s going to be wonderful now in this new round world. And thank you, Queen Isabella, too. Amen. The boy is Garland Wyatt, son of a Dallas judge and now a failed lawyer himself, who moves through this brief a novel looking for a roundness in a world that seems to have gone flat and empty Michael King, of Houston, writes on culture for the Observer. of wonder since his schooldays. The book is brief and episodic, and more than a little predictable: early on Works THANK YOU, QUEEN ISABELLA By John Works Texas A&M University Press, 1986 112 pages, $12.95 introduces a mad survivalist who nearly blows Wyatt’s head off, and Wyatt’s exgirlfriend has taken up with a malicious playboy with a dismal affinity for drugs and guns. One reads the book edgily waiting for the Boom of a telegraphed climax. That said, this is a promising novella by a young but clearly talented writer, who has taken as his subject that contemporary suburban “malaise” so often touched upon in the last few years by editorialists and politicians as well as novelists. Works’s cloud of uneasiness has a Highland Park, Dallas, address, flavored with margaritas, and fried chicken prepared by maids, but one recognizes the lineage in a trail that leads backward to Updike and Cheever. Young Wyatt is a disappointed liberal of sorts, although his social convictions are described so thinly that it is hard to believe either in his illusions or his disillusions. A trust fund grandbaby grandpa was a cotton tycoon Wyatt feels guilty and studies to become a people’s lawyer, only to discover too late that he just doesn’t have the knack. Then they returned to Dallas and Wyatt went to work for Legal Services. It quickly became evident that he was no Perry Mason. His mind was better suited to large and mushy notions than the arcane entanglements of Vernon’s Annotated Texas Statutes, and his courtroom humiliations became routine. He was swamped with hopeless cases. Old women cried in his office and he could do nothing to help them. Entire families with no home and no money came in and asked Wyatt for help. He grew despondent in his failure and lost the ability to Yuppie Angst By Michael King 18 JUNE 27, 1986
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