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BOOKS & THE CULTURE A Rare Ability THE BRIDE WORE CRIMSON AND OTHER STORIES. By Bryan Woolley 195 pages. El Paso: Texas Western Press. $27.50 cloth, $17.50 paper. 0 NE OF THE FEW WRITERS who infuse an efficiently spare style with poetic textures, Bryan Woolley has emerged during the last several years as a serious chronicler of society’s sobering rhythms. He has won numerous awards for his journalism from The Texas Institute of Letters, the Texas Headliners Club, PEN West, and others. His two previous collections of columns and magazine features, The Time Of My Life and The Edge Of The West, have been so highly regarded that they have been used as required texts in some university courses on writing. His novels have also been viewed with respect and affection, and his book on the Harlan County coal strikes, We Be Here When The Mornin’ Comes, is considered an important document in sociology. The publishing of a new volume by him, then, is a notable event. Whether turning his attention to, journalism or fiction, Woolley is consistently lucid in his writing, and that’s true in terms of style as well as concept. In his newest book, The Bride Wore Crimson And Other Stories, Woolley covers a wide range of subjects, though in spirit the work might be called an oblique autobiography. In the deeply moving “Memories of Selma,” for example, he recounts his own life-changing participation in the Montgomery to Selma civil rights march of 1965; but in most of the pieces his presence emergences indirectly. Whether directly personal or not, the issues presented seem thoroughly immediate in their importance because of the way he keeps his attention in focus. The prize-winning story “A Family Nightmare,” for example, chronicles the year-long horror of a man falsely accused of sexually molesting a child. The suspense in the piece is frightening, and the network of elements dealt with takes on a microcosmic cast as social workers, law enforcement officials, friends, neighbors, and James Hoggard is a poet living in Wichita Falls, Texas. strangers move through each other’s lives with their own points of ambiguity. Even in a sports piece, the already anthologized “Glory Denied,” he deals with major forces, here the inaccurate bad press that followed the winning of a national basketball championship by Texas Western University in 1966. All of its players in the final game were black, and the errors riddling the Sports Illustrated article that followed the victory were perpetuated time and again by people claiming to have done serious research on team members’ backgrounds and the racial conditions at the university. A moving corrective, the piece becomes a cautionary warning about accepting without question pronouncements from “wellplaced” sources, whether those sources are prominent magazines or famous writers. The numerous personality profiles gathered in the collection exhibit a delightful range of interests. The piece on writer John Graves follows the standard interview story style, but the tone of the piece takes on a contemplative force that reminds us we’re in the presence of two clear-headed thinkers who are sharply observant about the timemeasuring details around them. The voices of the two writers echo off of each other, for example, when Woolley writes: We all yearn for escape and aloneness sometimes, and floating down a river, living off the land and listening to the water and the birds, seems a beautiful thing to do with solitude. Especially when the river is John Graves’ Brazos, which in his book [Goodbye To A River] isn’t just a string of water, but a history as long as the river itself, full of such stonehard characters as Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker, Bose Ikard, Martha Sherman, Big FootWallace and all the blood-loving Comanches and flinty AngloCelts who strove against each other. Three other profile pieces ought also to be noted. They range from the weirdly amusing subject of a shuffleboard master in “The Hands And Eye Of Texas Billy Mays” to the perplexities associated with the confusing conjunctions Of life and death in the brilliant bookman John Jenkins in “The Death Of Austin Squatty.” In the portrait of John Tower, written before the for mer Senator’ s death, Woolley captures in a finely fair-spirited way the complementary aspects of density, thorniness and lyri. cism in the man. Throughout the collection, whether he’s dealing with the ambiguities associated with homicide in the title story, or with littleknown elements like Blacks becoming Indians in “Freedom Fighters,” which deals with the Seminoles, or diverting matters like the only plant that still makes Dr Pepper according to the old formula and bottles it in six-ounce clock-befaced containers that are fast disappearing, or the almost extinct “horny toad,” or a woman in West Texas who says she can’t stand trees very long because they “get in the way of the sky,” Woolley’s writing is characterized by a sympathetic sense of identification with his subject matter. At the same time, his careful selection of details guides the reader’s perceptions so that there is little choice but to approach the complexities presented with such a measured degree of detachment that the result is a renewed sense of friendship with forces like accuracy, honor, and wit. That kind of thing does not happen frequently in magazine pieces; it happens a lot, though, when reading Woolley, who has a rare ability to find extraordinary elements of social importance in the rhythms of the facts whose textures are all around us. The book’s design should also be mentioned. The chiaroscuro of the cover photograph of blood, ring, and lace by David Flores is simultaneously lyrical and haunting, just as so many of the pieces following it are; and the book’s design, which includes brief author’s remarks on each title page, evokes a sense of dignity consistent with the tone of the texts. Whether seeing the work first as an aesthetic object or as a gathering of stories, one soon notices the fine quality of intelligence and care that went into the processes of book-making here. In several ways this volume is one of the special ones. Send a Friend The Texas Observer Contact the Subscription Manager 307 W. 7th St. Austin, Texas 78701 20 SEPTEMBER 3, 1993