Page 19


Chapter 5 exemplifies the generalization in an unjust society deepen injustice at the hands of those who own the technology. “Nordic superiors,” as scientific managers, came to supervise Mexicans, blacks, and “sorry whites” do huge, mechanized, corporate cotton ranches. The modern bidnisman wiped out Thomas Jefferson’s virtuous independent fanner, and “the rural South lost 2,275,000 people through migration between 1930 and 1940.” Chapter 6, on “women, gender identity, and `men’s work’ on the farm,” justifies the adage that “man works from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done.” Child labor was commonplace in the cotton culture, and women’s life was hell. The photograph of Nettie Featherston of Childress, Texas \(one of a series of chilling photographs in words: “This county’s a hard county. They won’t help bury you here. If you die, you’re dead, that’s all.” Chapters 7 and 8 consider “the massive disruptions to the farm order of the South and Southwest caused by New Deal agri cultural programs” and by “the rapid development of agribusiness farming.” If another summarizing adage is needed, it has to be that “them as has, gits.” Nice people do horrendously unnice things and then blame their victims. A reader of Foley’s challenging book might encapsulate the history of central Texas as Comanches, cattle, cotton and now computers. The conclusion is tempting that everything changes except “man’s inhumanity to man” \(a patriarchal phrase which today must be disowned with femishould be resisted. In the continuing conflict among Texas descendants of fallen Adam, there also have always been gutsy defiers of the inhumane. Foley hums at least brief tunes about a number of unsung heroes, among them \(in union organizer, and founder of a little school for black children in tiny Littig \(in Travis Tenayuca, member of the Communist Party and leader of a strike by pecan shellers in San Antonio, who called herself an Indian like her father, and boasted that she didn’t have a “‘fashionable Spanish name like Garcia or Sanchez.”‘ I was glad to read even brief mention of the people who preceded all other “races” in what became Texas. My most honored folk hero, however, is not Tenayuca but Henrietta McGee, widowed African-American sharecropper and union organizer. Foley repeats a delightful though possibly apocryphal story of McGee’s sojourn on union business in Washington. When she and her party took a table at a Washington restaurant, the waiter refused to serve them until Eleanor Roosevelt, at a nearby table, saw the insult and invited McGee to join her. Mrs. Roosevelt apologized, saying that at first she hadn’t recognized Mrs. McGee as Puerto Rican. The proud reply was instant. “I’m not. I’m a nigger, a nigger sharecropper from down in Arkansas.” Feathered and unfeathered chickens are obviously not Arkansas’ sole crop. James Sledd is professor emeritus of English at U.T.Austin, and a frequent contributor to the Observer. The Blind Sleuthing the Blind Considering the Not So Simple Art of Murder BY CHRIS GARLOCK MURDER TAKES A BREAK. By Bill Crider. Walker and Company. 184 pages. $21.95. LOVE LIES BLEEDING. By Susan Wittig Albert. Berkeley Publishing Group. 308 pages. $21.95. 44 got up on my feet and went over to the bowl in the corner and threw cold water on my face. After a while I felt a little better but very little. I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.” That’s Raymond Chancier in 1940, in Farewell My Lovely, as perfect a piece of writing as you’re likely to find in any genre. Writers like Chandler are why I love good mysteries. As Chandler himself wrote in “The Simple Art of Murder,” the seminal essay on the subject, “The detective story, even in its most conventional form, is difficult to write well. Good specimens of the art are much rarer than good serious novels. Rather, second-rate items outlast most of the high-velocity fiction, and a great many that should never have been born simply refuse to die. They are as durable as the statues in public parks and just about as dull.” If the latest efforts by Bill Crider and Susan Wittig Albert fall into this latter category and they do they have plenty of company. Yet even Truman Smith and China Bayles \(Crider’s and Albert’s amawhy a society that permits, and encourages, tremendous gaps between the rich and the poor has developed such an insatiable appetite for murder mysteries. Crider’s latest fourth in the series has Truman Smith inveigled into tracking down a college student who’s vanished while on spring break in Galveston. Along the way he mixes it up with the usual assortment of lead-footed cops, colorful bad guys, and a dollop of up-to-the-minute social relevance. You’ve seen it all before and the only potentially interesting angle JUNE 19, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27