Mouldering On In Galveston The Regional Novel Never Died It’s Just Gone to Texas BY LARS SIMMER TALES OUT OF SCHOOL. By Benjamin Taylor. Turtle Point Press, 1995. 283 pages. $21.95. Tales Out of School is a brilliant, although perhaps unconscious, parody of that venerable regional genre, the Mouldering South novel. The single liberty taken is that the usual elements have been displaced to Galveston, a place notably lacking in decaying plantations. Almost all of the other adornments are in place, not the least of which is the Old Faithful Mammy. Old Faithful Mammy watches as the family fortunes go to hell by the most direct route possible. Old Faithful Mammy nurses her employers in their madnesses. Old Faithful Mammy is wise and long suffering. And so forth. If this book were to be taken seriously, we would be greatly embarrassed that it could have been composed in America in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Rather than be embarrassed, let us suppose then that this heap of clichs has been piled up to the laudable purpose of lampooning a type of novel that we can do without. In that case, the author can be faulted only for scourging the deceased roan, as I believe he might put it. This is the sort of book in which there is a city in Louisiana known as “Newawleans.” Plenty of sentence fragments, too. Chancres, madness, lesbianism, homosexuality, town imbecile, odd asexual bird-watching bachelor, and religious obsession: everything, in short, required for a Mouldering South novel. A New York editor wants exactly this, or would want if it were well-written, when he asks any writer who may ever have lived south of the Mason-Dixon line to produce a “Regional Novel.” Did I mention the dissolution of the family fortune owing to no shortage of prodigals? Lars Eighner is the author of Traveling with Lizbeth and the novel Pawn to Queen Four, recently published by St. Martin’s Press. a new word processor, has discovered he can make his words camera-ready, and has printed out his work in poorly designed pages. The question is always, why shouldn’t he self-publish or send the pages to a vanity house? I have no knowledge whatever of the means by which Tales Out of School came to be published. I can only say that it looks and reads very much like the pages that come out of the wannabe’ s laser printer. The reason not to publish the pages that come out of the laser printer, made-up like real pages in a real book, is that the author has never had to consider the responses of an editor, much less those of a reader. Yes, indeed, sometimes a genius who is completely self-absorbed, who writes in a private language about things of only personal significance, will produce a stunning, an enlightening, a brilliant worka work, well, of genius. Unfortunately, everyone who has a laser printer supposes himor herself to be that genius. That is what appears to have gone wrong herealthough as I have said, whether it was published at THE STORY LINE IS DIFFICULT to make out. “Erotic as it is spiritual” says the dust jacket, but it is difficult to make out any eroticism and the jacket seems to have confused religiosity with spirituality. At any rate, a Jew in Galveston invents a better beer in the latter years of the last century and becomes immensely rich. He lives modestly, and so we are spared anything so soaring as an attempt at a description of the splendor of Galveston before the hurricane. He has two sons. One is a birdwatcher, perhaps effeminate, but so far as we can tell, utterly asexual in practice. The other marries a Catholic woman who comes from Newawleans with her Old Faithful Mammy. She converts for purposes of marriage, but seems to remain a covert Catholic all the while. Sometime after the arrival of their first and only son, her husband returns from Houston with a chancre. Don’t you hate it when that happens? We are quite prepared for her smouldering frustrated sexuality and for his going mad by degrees, but he dies instead rescuing the town imbecile during the hurricane. This drives the old Jew mad, and things at the brewery begin to deteriorate. We miss any really good account of the hurricane, so if you are not quite up on your Texas history, you may mistake this for any old hurricane. Those who know the hurricane is coming, having been alerted to the setting by the chapter titles, are very likely to be disappointed. Sometime after that we arrive at The Situation. The Situation is that the son, the grandson of the Jew who founded the brewery, is fourteen and has not been bar mitzvahed, although his mother is still nominally a Jew. This strikes the doubtful cabalistic rabbi as something of a diserepancy, although apparently the religious training of the boy, thus far, has been utterly neglected. Meanwhile the , boy has been diddling with a boy from the wrong side of the tracks and is being tutored in the classics by one of a pair of spinster ladies”spinster” then being the polite Now I must admit that this book has the expense of the author or at the expense rather more Jews than is typical. The of a feckless editor, I do not know. doubtful priest is here replaced with a doubtful and cabalistic rabbi, but the function is hardly altered save that the rabbi’s repentant convert was born a Catholic, and this allows the usual religious whammy to be administered in a double portion. The effect is that of having been confused by seeing too many bad productions of Tennessee Williams’ plays in too short a time. Fortunately, the dust jacket offers some slight guidance, for otherwise it is impossible to tell what this book is supposed to be about. I have seen a few books like this before. Generally a new, would-be novelist has got Chancres, madness, lesbianism, homosexuality, town imbecile, odd asexual bird-watching bachelor, and religious obsession: everything, in short, required for a Mouldering South novel. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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