McMurtry \(whose second and third novels raise a little literary hell. All bets were off as he gleefully ripped into the Texas icons of the period, including the Austin holy trinity of Dobie, Roy Bedichek and William Prescott Webb. His send-up of Houston’s newly-opened Astrodome \(“The first promising rumour I heard about the Harris County Domed Stadium was that it was going to be large enough that the Shamrock Frank Lloyd Wright’s memorable description of the hotel’s lobby: “I always wondered what the inside of a jukebox looked like.” Perhaps the most bracing chapter was “Eros in Archer County,” McMurtry’s essay on cussing and dirty words. Like some sly, indigenous Margaret Mead assiduously studying his home village, he drolly examined the street language of his childhood: “There was, I believe, a tacit understanding that only one’s friends could call one a cocksucker without expecting retaliation.” Dobie died in 1964, but his fading presence still fills McMurtry’s chapter on Texas writing, “Southwestern Literature?” It is a plea to move past the generation of “Pancho” Dobie, and to invest in the future work of several young Texas writers. This group, in addition to Brammer, Graves, and Humphrey, included John Howard Griffin, R.G. Vliet, Elroy Bode, Sherry Kafka, Robert Flynn, Bud Shrake, Willie Morris, Larry L. King, Al Dewlin, Hughes Rudd, Max Crawford, Grover Lewis, and Dave Hickey. McMurtry’s high-spirited book ends with a piece that many consider his single best piece of writing, “Take My Saddle From the Wall: A Valediction,” an essay on growing up inclined towards book-learning in a culture of working cowboys and ranchers. In A Narrow Grave began the modern study of Texas writing, and in the decades since its publication, the field has prospered. J. Frank Dobie’s old course still exists at U.T.Austin, now in large classes taught by Don Graham, Rolando HinojosaSmith, and Jose Limon; statewide literary events such as the Texas Book Festival and Texas Writers Month have brought unprecedented attention to state writers, and Dobie’s old house, on the banks of Austin’s Waller Creek, now houses the successful Michener Center for Texas Writing. Tom Pilkington has been an important contributor to this field since the seventies. For some years now he has been University Scholar and Professor of English at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, and his hand has been evident in several important events and publications, including the Texas Literary Tradition gathering held in Austin in 1983. This ambitious conference, co-chaired by Pilkington, Don Graham, and Jim Lee, brought together everyone who was anyone in the field. Panels of writers included McMurtry, John Graves, A.C. Greene, Pete Gent, Shelby Hearon, Elmer Kelton, Jose Limon, William Owens, Tomas Rivera, R.G. Vliet, and Bill Wittliff. The published conference proceedings \(now almost impossible to writing that I know. Pilkington’s own work appears to be an extension of this landmark event. His previous collection, My Blood’s Country, primarily examined southwestern writers outside Texas standing out was Pilkington’s very fine essay on Cabeza de Vaca’s narrative of his trek across the southwest in the 1520s. State of Mind is organized conceptually, using a chronological construct from “ancestors,” early in the book, to writers of the present in the final chapter, “Future Shock.” Pilkington raises several traditional questions in Texas studies: the relationship of literature and the land, the role of the frontier in Texas writing, Texas literature as southern writing, and violence as a theme in Texas fiction. To these often-pondered subjects, Pilkington adds two welcome new ones: the fiction of Texans during war time, and the Texas football novel. “Texans At War” is a wholly original examination of Texans as the “free-spirited and freedom-loving individualists that they are supposed to be,” loving to fight, yet chafing under tight military discipline. Pilkington’s sources include one of the earliest novels set in Texas \(Mexico Versus Texas, and reach forward to Norman Mailer’s 1967 novel Why Are We In Vietnam?, an initiation story which features a rich Dallas businessman, his son, and a friend, on an Alaskan bear hunt. Pilkington is insightful about Mailer’s use of the stock character of a figure that sprang to life in the aftermath of the JFK assassination \(although he omits the wonderful last line of Mailer’s book: stores to life two good Texas books: Lone Star Preacher, a Civil War novel by John W. Thomason, and Andrew Jolly’s A Time of Soldiers. The football chapter, “A Fan’s Notes,” benefits from the engaging sound of Pilkington’ s own voice, missing in much of the book. Written from the standpoint of a boy who grew up in the fifties listening to Kern Tips doing radio broadcasts of Southwest Conference football, Pilkington’s informed affection for both football and football writing shines through: For me, the romance sprang from an accident of my youth. When I was a youngster, my family subscribed to the \(now deFort Worth Press. The Press was a tabloid, part of the Scripps-Howard chain. As a news medium it was woefully inadequate. But in its sports pages in the 1950s and early 1960s a legend of Texas journalism was born. The list of sportswriters who worked for the Press during that period is impressive by any standard: Blackie Sherrod, Dan Jenkins, Bud Shrake, Gary Cartwright, Mike Shropshire, and others who went on to illustrious careers elsewhere. Even as a teenager I had heard Westbrook Pegler’s famous description of a newspaper’s sports section as “the toy department.” But gosh, the Press gang seemed to be having a lot of fun. You name the technique, they used it deftly: irony, economy, humor, sublimity to honor the occasional sublime achievement. Employ irony in any other part of the newspaper, and it usually falls flat I know because I’ve tried it. Sports fans are, above all else, sophisticated consumers of clever analysis. A bit further, Pilkington quotes a passage from Pete Gent’s North Dallas Forty that serves as an antidote to his own romance with sports writing: Sportswriters were such assholes. They didn’t know shit and acted as if they understood a game far more complex in emotion and technical skills than they had the ability to comprehend. They couldn’t even transcribe my jokes correctly. That is why they were sportswriters, because they didn’t know shit about anything. Later in the chapter, Pilkington adroitly pairs his analysis of a fictional West Texas 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 30, 1999 tI
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