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work. I think about it and I don’t think it could ever have worked. While I have very serious regrets for the way things were, I can say that I tried very hard.” Why couldn’t it work? How did she try hard? She misses a chance to add a sensitive touch. For the best, no doubt, other gubernatorial candidates do not have autobiographiesin-press. Like Richards and her backers, they know that what they say about themselves can hurt even if it’s all sweetvoiced. A check of several candidate biographies yielded the usual date-of-birth to church-on-Sunday data, with an intriguing anecdote coming only from Republican hopeful Clayton Williams. The Midland businessman has issued an eight-page personal profile, including this story from his mother, Chic: “He was full of life and into everything. He never stopped. I can remember the days when he and his buddies spent days digging tunnels they would dig tunnels to each other’s homes, they would dig tunnels and make a club house, they dug so many tunnels that people still find them today.” Crown Williams, then, as the underground candidate and thank everyone else for holding their life stories until they’re ready to tell all. Among the Believers A Story of Faith and Fundamentalism in a Panhandle Town BY LEILA LEVINSON ORDINARY TIME By A.G. Mojtabai New York: Doubleday 223 pages, $17.95 GET OUT OF the prison of selfabsorption,” Ron Powers exhorted an audience of writers at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference this past August. “Take up your right and responsible actions and explore the unfamiliar American experience. There’s purification in venturing outside of your own circle into the unknown terrain.” The information and insights we mine there are critical to restoring our sense of history and to reaffirming the value of community within this country, and an added bonus, according to Powers, will be that this exploration will also bring new perspectives to our fiction. Powers, a nonfiction writer currently working on a book about the disintegration of America’s small towns and communities, described Grace Mojtabai’s 1986 book, Blessed Assurance, as an example of such an exploration. A Jew who has lived in New York, Cambridge, Pakistan, and Iran, Mojtabai set out for Amarillo to understand how the town is the proud home of Pantex, the country’s nuclear bomb plant. The result was a complex, evenhanded portrait of the culture of northwest Texas, a portrait that enlightens rather than judges. But it is Mojtabai’s new novel, Ordinary Time, that illustrates the last part of Powers’s claim. While nonfiction allowed Mojtabai to delineate the social dynamics of Amarillo, she could only to turn to fiction to express the quality of the human spirit she encountered in northwest Texas, her home for the past seven years. In this remote corner of the world that can boast the nation’s hottest weather in the summer and the coldest in the winter, Mojtabai found Leila Levinson as a freelance writer living in Austin. a new focus for her fiction: the struggle for faith in an unaccommodating world. A story of four individuals living in Durance, Texas, a town “buried in the Dust Bowl, resurrected in the oil boom, now, fallen again on hard times . . . waiting for Jesus to stake his claim on the territory,” Ordinary Time presents a world that is unfamiliar even to many Texans. But as we read, we find that the unfamiliar is ordinary and that the ordinary is universal and heroic. The ordinary is extraordinary. According to John Gardner, a story can start in one of two ways: either someone sets out on a journey or a stranger comes to town. In Ordinary Time, a stranger, Val, comes to town on a Greyhound bus. He’s running to Los Angeles, though he can’t remember what exactly he’s running from, and he ends up in Durance by accident. But then that’s Durance’s whole history, being “an accidental town from the very start.” The first white man who passed through only stopped there because a blizzard forced him to protect his herd of cattle, and he ended up giving the place his name. Though Val is a cold shadow of a man, his impressions help the reader, also an outsider, to visualize Durance, a town in which, as Val quickly learns, there is “more want than work.” We immediately feel the dry, unforgiving heat, the harsh glare, the endless space, and the suffocating presence of “all this holy stuff.” Val picks it up everywhere in Durance, over the radio, on billboards and walls. Even the traffic signs are scribbled over “YIELD-TO JESUS, STOP-SIN.” To spend a night in a shelter, Val is required to attend chapel where he is exhorted that “God doesn’t make tramps . . . Did you know that money is spoken of over 700 times in the Bible? Money is important to God. Yes sir! You betcha! It’s the will of God for his people to have a nice home.” When the mysterious Val shows up in Durance, he becomes the object of several people’s hopes, people who look to him or take him in because they’ve got nothing to lose. There’s Henrietta, owner of the Three Square Meals Restaurant, better known as the Cemetery Restaurant since people stop in after a burial or unveiling in the cemetery next door. Henrietta hires Val and for a minute hopes that he will change her life, but, blessed with “the eye of discernment,” she quickly sees him for what he is a man on the run. \(She’s also able to see “with a man like Oral Roberts how his eyes Father Gilvary is the priest of the only Catholic church in town and a regular at Henrietta’s, who quietly observes Val and recognizes him as “a blank screen for anyone to dream on.” The priest has pity for Cleat, the town foundling who rarely speaks and who becomes fixated on Val. Even Henrietta’s employee takes a hankering for Val, but Henrietta knows Stella can take care of herself, unlike Cleat, whose eyes show how much he doesn’t have and wants. Everyone in Durance is wanting, needing, and waiting. The difference between people is what they’re waiting for. Many people are busy getting ready for the big day when Jesus arrives. Henrietta has tried to be one of them, but she has had to struggle with her grief over her husband’s death which has often taken her down a slippery slope. She’s been saved about three times, but becomes more and more inclined to be here now. With “famished expectation,” Father Gilvary has stubbornly waited upon the spirit, but as he aged, he began waiting for his belief to be as strong as his need. ATHICK ATMOSPHERE of religion enshrouds Durance, but Ordinary Time peels away the stereotyped image of the High Plains as a mindlessly and singularly fundamentalist place to reveals the complex faith of vividly depicted individuals. In the midst of THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17