“writer”or, as King’s own mother would have it, “Somewhere Between a Busboy and a Rodeo Clown and Too Proud to Seek Honest Work.” There are three essays on the latter subject, full of half-true and allfunny stories, although I notice he doesn’t tell the one about the time, many years ago, when he asked Observer editor Ronnie Dugger for a ten-dollar raise. \(We’d be glad to have that one, some day. We’d even The “Tall Tales” are unevenI could easily do without the bachelor recipe parodies in “Cookin’ Up Mischief,” and only Willie Morris or Wishbone could love “Goin’ to the Dogs”but such small distinctions are of little account. In this range of comic essays \(mostly on demand from King is like watching a fly fisherman stroking the wind over the river in the clear morning light: it hardly matters whether he catches anything. Yet he often does so, most notably in the funniest and most ambitious piece, “All Hail, Bubba, Ronnie and Them,” a day-tty0ay narrative in the life of one 1984 Dallas GOP convention delegate, Buford Alvin Perkins \(“My frens call me Cadillac, Bubba’s a caricature, but there’s just enough truth in him to make convincing his cornpone observations of modern politicsand from this end of the telescope, it looks like Bubba recognized the death of electoral democracy long before Dick Morris made it official: “By the time these big conventions is helt,” mourns Bubba, “everthang’s cut-and-dried and us delegates don’t amount to a popcorn fart.” Following this long comic section, four stories of “Pure Fiction” are much darker in tone and intent. King calls these stories “the most truthful of all…of worlds I made and preside over, God-like, and therefore is infallible and not to be questioned.” They are about, from Texas to New York, loss, labor, drinking, loneliness, lust, and hatred, the sort of things that get summed up in newspapers as “family dysfunction” and “social dislocation.” But in the King’s English, he watches his characters with an empathetic, passionate, but honest eye, and in their own voices: “It made me glad,” says an out-of-work roughneck drinking his last paycheck, “I didn’t have a wife waiting to chew me out and remind me I had too many kids or owed too much money to go around acting free.” I have left until last the five straightforward memoirs, which open the book as “True Facts.” Perhaps King loves best his fictions, but these essays are for me the meat of the book, and will remain at the heart of his achievement as a writer, long after the glossier and more lucrative entertainments have gone their way. Nobody much writes essays like these anymore, and for a hard and simple reason: nobody much will publish them. The loss is ours, so here remain a handful to treasure: a perceptive reconstruction of the author’s jury service in an ordinary therefore difficult rape trial; a father’s emotionally melodramatic and socially complex history of a baroque sum READING KING IS LIKE WATCHING A FLY FISHERMAN STROKING THE WIND OVER THE RIVER IN THE CLEAR MORN-ING LIGHT: IT HARDLY MATTERS WHETHER HE CATCHES ANYTHING. mer in the helpless entourage of his son’s suburban little league baseball team; a selfknowing reconsideration of King’s army service in the immediate aftermath of Truman’s directive to integrate black and white soldiers; a wide-eyed friend’s homage to Charlie Wilson, perhaps the last Texas Congressional Good 01′ Boy worthy of the name. Each of these essays has its virtues, unequally weighty, and they echo subjects, in race and politics especially, that King has made his own. As a group they are as strong as any he has written. The five memoirs close with the strongest, the highly personal “‘Happy Birthday to a Fine Boy,'” which will partly recall to longtime fans “The Old Man,” King’s unforgettable memoir of his father. Daddy King is also central to this tale, but with little of the exasperating downhome touch that gave the earlier essay its comic edge. I can’t say much more about it without giving it away, but at its core is a stunning family tragedy in his father’s life, one revealed to son Larry when he first came of age and which he has clearly carried with him and wondered at through the long years since. It might have become, King says, a novel, but that effort foundered, perhaps because it is too close to his heart. Here he tells it clearly and cleanly, layered with time, and in the telling gives to his father and his home place an entirely new character. Having read “Happy Birthday,” I will never again think of “Texas”nor of King’s writingwithout pondering the bleakness at the center of this story. Larry King’s popularly assigned role of the professional Texancertainly has its cultural advantages; but from the look and sound of it, is also an occupational burden \(no doubt especially so for the man For King, too, the ingrained instinct to parody the popular imagination of Texas must be well nigh overwhelming; it is to his considerable credit that it is a temptation he almost always avoids, except on those irresistible occasions when some boneheaded editor has hired him implicitly to bring all his rawhide, saddlebags, hidy’s and horseshit to yet another group of glossy-eyed, gullible subscribers. There are thankfully few such instances in this vivid and memorable collection, which takes its place proudly among the fledgling Southwestern Writers Collection Series, as well as in the distinguished group of King’s earlier collections \(Confessions of a White Racist, The Old Man and Lesser Mortals, None But a Blockhead, body of work, King’s essays alone stand tall among any American writer’s of this half-century; together with the plays, they form a unique memoir of the man and an enduring portrait of his times, from dirt Texas poor to high New York cotton. “Dialogue,” from page 3 National Public Radio’s censorship of a poem by Martin Espada that it had commissioned for National Poetry Week, the decision reflects the narrowness of views reflected in the mainstream media and the increasing control of “public” venues by private corporations. I have included an email about the censorship of Out at Work Andrew H. Lee Tamiment Library, NYU JULY 4, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17
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