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Martha Ferris to talk nonstop about finding Cow Lady in the rain and bringing her back to life and healing her. Just past a decrepit service station, she turned into what looked like an ancient parking lot with patchy, cracked asphalt. Uncut grasses and weeds nearly obscured a NO DUMPING sign that stood on the corner. At the rear, a driveway of crumbly cement led back to a wild overgrown area that looked more like the Amazon jungle than South Austin. They stepped over a low cable meant to keep cars out and followed the driveway to where it ended in a dirt path. Molly looked back and was amazed to see that civilization had disappeared. They might have been miles from the city, instead of a few hundred yards from a busy urban intersection. I know that intersection, along Barton Springs Road; one of the important small pleasures of reading hometown novels is recognizing the landmarks. But another is discovering unfamiliar places, unknown neighborhoods. Mary Willis Walker’s nov els are adept at taking the mystery genre and investing it with lively new significance, and taking up Austin and finding a surprising world where the familiar road ends. The driving wheel of James Magnuson’s Windfall is less explosive than a mass assassination, but equally melodramatic: as the book opens, Ben Lindberg, a young English professor at U.T., stumbles upon a fortune hidden near his home. \(It’s in South Austin, where this kind of thing is rumored to go on all the stolen or drug money, but Lindberg can’t resist taking, first a bit, and then all of it. Since we’re all lottery players these days, Magnuson’s grand joke is to turn what looks like a fairy tale into a thriller. He gives the luckless Lindberg what he thinks he most wants, and then watches the unhappy results. English teacher salaries being what they are, and the true “owners” likely to be thieves at best, Lindberg can’t get rid of the money, and he can’t really spend it. He’s afraid to tell anyone about it, even his wife, and other than small amounts for car repairs and athletic shoes, the money becomes as oppressive to him as Poe’s telltale heart. Like a character in a mystery, he decides he needs to “launder” the money only to realize he hasn’t got the slightest notion what that might mean. He confides in the sort of people who might know, and soon they’re looking to launder him out of his fortune. Like Walker, Magnuson follows his narrative into his protagonist’s interior, although he is less interested in catching the crooks than in capturing the slow breakdown of Lindberg’s spirit. The professor is also a Thoreau scholar, perhaps on the verge of a crucial discovery about the notorious falling-out between Thoreau and Emerson. The shadow that fell over that historical friendship becomes a premonition of the shadow that has fallen over Lindberg’s life. It’s a-device that neatly links the inner and outer worlds of the novel, and it even provides the occasion of the professor’s downfall: one of his part-time graduate students is also a small-time hustler, and the teacher foolishly turns to the student for advice about dealing with his windfall. In a dream Lindberg sees Thoreau, sounding the frozen Walden Pond. The water at first seems bottomless, but Thoreau brings up, out of the dreamer’s spirit, a nightmare of the first innocent victim of the teacher’s avarice: an old woman slain by those searching for the stolen money. Finally Ben saw what Thoreau in tended him to see. Clinging to the stone at the end of the sounding line was the old woman. She was not alive. If any thing, she looked frozen, her eyes open, but lusterless and vacant as a pike’s, but somehow that hadn’t loosened her grip as she trolled upward in the sacred water, her Mardi Gras beads drifting around her neck like eels. As that passage suggests, Magnuson is after deeper fish than just Ben’s big score, and Windfall is less a novel about money than about the harsh light money shines on men’s hearts. It is also about the new Austin every roadway, office, and landscape is readily recognizable, and in speaking of the book the author is frank about his hometown target. “I feel that Austin in the 1990s has become the emblem of something,” he told an interviewer, “the place where everyone wants to move, the All-American boom town, a city where you can protect the endangered salamander and still make billions in high tech, a city that’s all sunshine and no shadow…. [But] I hope to create a portrait of contemporary Texas that is much more disturbing and shadow-ridden than the pictures created by rah-rah publicists.” It’s a pattern that’s as old as American literature, and indeed the country that spawned it. The newcomers arrive in an undiscovered paradise, only to find that it’s as fallen a world as the one they left. How could it not be, when they brought their dark hearts along with them? The newest waves of Austin settlers are only beginning to imagine what these two novelists already know. MARCH 5, 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27