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MENTAL HYGIENE “The Texas Observer will lower your cholesterol, make your teeth whiter, your breath sweeter, and will sharpen your mind to the keenness of a fine razor. But that just makes it harder to listen to Bill Clements.” Molly Ivins observer TO SUBSCRIBE: Name Address City State Zip $27 enclosed for a one-year subscription. Bill me for $27. 307 West 7th, AUSTIN, TX 78701 NE TIXAS a participant in an interviewed-on-the-street poll on major world issues in the ’80s, Lori opines, “There are mainly two things on my mind world peace and whether the cleaners will ever find my coat.” But it turns out at least half of Lori’s charm is guileless and the rest isn’t. Beneath her fetching, blithe surface is a pretty tough character who is not averse to occasionally making love beside a Hill Country creek in daylight. Lori is the spoiled, blond daughter of an Abilene oilman. She has a “perfect, cerealbox face,” a perky figure, good manners and an attitude that suggests that anything less than fulfillment of the American Dream is most likely the Devil’s doing. How much of her personality is product and how much is packaging is the unanswered question through much of the book. Chris comes across as a sensitive, smalltown guy with all the potential in the world -if he could find it. His charm and flaw is his independent spirit, which is partly the cover of an insecure son of a lonely East Texas farmer. He’s out of the Navy, but there’s no focus to his life. So when Lori, to his surprise, sees something in him, they begin spinning the emotional threads that lift them from their younger selves and into marriage. That leads, of course, to almost instant disappointment for Lori and suffocation for Chris. In the case of his characters \(and probably courtship and marriage as a basic Adult Training course. He runs Lori and Chris through the traditional domestic gauntlet from erotic attraction, to making a date, to first sex, to getting married, to playing house, to childbirth, to the \(in this case experience. It’s strange, but because few novelists today write about such simple, universal stages in life, reading about Pringle’s two characters might make you feel \(especially distance yet familiarity with all of the characters. As one of the few novelistic weather reports on young white, middle-class married life, it’s depressing to’ learn that things haven’t changed much, at least not in this supercharged coupling. What’s not depressing is Pringle’s talent as a novelist. He has an old-fashioned storytelling gift, an eye for the extended comic scene, and an instinct for exposing everyday moments as the touchy, emotional vectors they are. At the core of Pringle’s fascination are parent-child relationships, the paths of Love, and the choices involved for certain types of young people to mature in American society. Like’ Larry McMurtry, another novelist who has provided readers with contemporary portraits of coming of age in Texas, Pringle has set his women characters at center stage, and in general, imbues his older generation with a sturdiness and wisdom absent or dormant in the young. In fact, Lori and Chris both are partially afflicted by what is best described as a bad case of hyper-American values a combination of contagious expectations and hovering guilt, ballyhooed by Advertising Rex and myopic religious charlatans. Lori, almost a victim of too much love and attention, is so conditioned by unreal expectations that the normal human condition is cause for mental turmoil. Fits of tears or Darvon binges come forth on occasions such as a parent-teacher conference, driving alone on a highway, or brooding about her new married name, Gray, which “probably made people think of a plastic raincoat.” While Lori ponders the gap between magazine brides and real life, Chris, who comes from a home where feelings are hidden, feels trapped by marital obligations, the dreaded . . . accumulating things . . . , and those new “family” friends: One Saturday nights they made new friends . . . until Chris learned -about the other couple, he invariably refused to go to visit them because all these friends came from church and as Baptists, they had been trained to avoid controversial conversations and play board games instead. Monopoly was God’s favorite; all Baptists were instructed in Monopoly right after they were baptized. It combined the spiritual activities of acquiring property and bankrupting others, activities that were not only godly but American, and therefore Baptist. Bible Belt values ebb and flow in character’s thoughts throughout this story. Pringle’s first novel, “Preacher’s Boy,” was a story of an 18-year-old boy’s relationship with his girlfriend and his father, set in the small town of Ashworth. Ashworth reappears here as Chris’ hometown. Of course, when the reality of their circumstances can no longer be denied, Lori and Chris come close to going separate ways. Each has flirtatious fantasies and skirmishes with extra-marital relationships. One of Pringle’s strengths lies in the seemingly effortless way scenes unfold in natural almost unnoticed moments. Scenes involving teetotaler Lori getting drunk and Lori and a “racy,” neighbor checking out a downtown bar at midafternoon invite a scriptwriter to rework them for a Hollywood version of Pringle’s novel. Pringle’s talent for writing real people is also measured by the depth of characterization that is evident in to Lori’s parents and Chris’s father and brother. Had any of these characters or all been put on center stage, Pringle might have written a longer, even richer, book. . What Pringle has written something rare the sort of unforced, good-read book that people insist isn’t written anymore. El THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21