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BOOKS Dimming the Southern Star Luvable Mutt, Demi-Saint or Total Perv? BY BRAD TYER A GRAND GUY: The Art and Life of Terry Southern By Lee Hill. HarperCollins 343 pages, $30. NOW DIG THIS: The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern 1950-1995 Edited by Nile Southern and Josh Alan Friedman Grove Press 263 pages, $25. F irst, a little background. Terry Southern was my first big break. I was 23, liv ing through a year-and-a-half of self-imposed exile in Portland, Oregon and trying to be a journalist of some sort amidst bouts of bartending, when an editor at The New York Times Book Review responded to an unsolicited package of book reviews I’d mailed. Actually called me on the phone. Wanted to know would I be interested in writing a 300-word review for $150? I’d been freelancing for a weekly alternative paper, and I think I thought I was going to be famous. I think I thought, somehow, I was going to get rich.The book was Texas Summer, and had I any familiarity, the editor inquired, with its author, Terry Southern? I did. I’d read everything. I’d loved everything, from the over-rated The Magic Christian to the under-rated Blue Movie, watched everything from. Dr. Strangelove to The Cincinnati Kid to The Loved One, and I worshipped at the feet of the sortajournalism contained in Red Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes, which collected same with short fiction, and carried a wicked-good title, and a cover shot of Southern clinching with Jane Fonda. I was a stoned Texas boy trying to get out of Texas and into some Jane Fonda’s arms, too. Hell yes I wanted to review that book. The pity is, Texas Summer was a snore. It was the book of a Texas boy going home. It was, unlike most everything else Southern had written, un-astonishing.A sentimental comingof-age story. A cobbling-together of previously published and decades-old short stories. It certainly wasn’t a satirethe genre at which Southern excelledand it wasn’t much in the way of just plain funny, either. Granted, it was his first book in 20 years, and likely his last, but at 300 words, I didn’t have much room to glorify Southern’s career, so I tried to temper disappointment with respect and gave Texas Summer a tepid putdown.The Times ran my reviewthe last time that would happenand I traded my advance proof of Texas Summer to a bookseller for a first edition of Red Dirt Marijuana. One night not long after, I had a dream in which. I was staying over around barbecue in the courtyard at night,William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg snubbed me for dissing their good friend Terry. I guess I felt guilty. But I got over it. At least until I read A Grand Guy, Canadian journalist Lee Hill’s new biography of Southern, and the first shot in whatever critical post-mortem Southern’s reputation receives. That’s where I found, on page 289, my name, in a parse of Texas Summer’s critical reception: The New York Times’s Brad Tyer wrote, “From his vantage point as a literary hipster, Mr. Southern used to cast a good-natured sneer at what he called ‘the quality lit game,’ even as his work redefined what literature could include. One is left wishing he had reentered the game on a more fertile field.” “Sadly,” Hill wrote, “this was not a minority opinion.” I grinned, at first, over my phantom promotion, and then I realized that while I had written, apparently, pretty much what everyone else had written, that one accidental coupling of a journalistically ambitious keg jockey and The Gray Lady had turned me into the most authoritatively quoted authority on the failure of the last two decades of Southern’s career \(the Times itself had previously quoted the same line, with my name attached, in that newspaper’s 1995 obituary for Southern, wherein I was, inexplicably and uncomfortably, one of only two writers quoted on Southern’s writing, the other The moral, I suppose, is that no matter how conscientiously one tries to write, one may sooner or later find oneself quoted effecting a youthfully under-qualified dismissal of one’s heroes and betters. So be careful. Or something. That’s the injury. The insult is that the book doing the quotingpreserving my queasy authority for acid-free posterity in libraries around the worldis also such a bad book in its own right. Southern had long fallen out of favor by the time Texas Summer came out, both as a literary player of the Paris Review generation, and as a screenwriter of high farces from Barbarella to Easy Rider. He was piecing together the tail end of a career with teaching and erratic freelance work, his books were mostly out of print, and the tendency amongst the small cult of his fans was to try to re-introduce his work. Grove did re-issue Southern’s novels after his death, which sparked a good num 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 8/3/01