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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Gulf Coast Gothic BY DIANA ANHALT The Floodmakers By Mylene Dressler Penguin/Putnam 192 pages $23.95 TheFloodmakersbyHoustonian Mylene Dressler, a vivid account of a family wracked by unresolved conflicts, ageold resentments, personal interests, and a struggle for control, is as intense, intimate, and immediate as theater-in-the-round. When Harry Buelle agrees to spend the weekend with his eccentric parents at their vacation home on the Texas Gulf coast, the purpose of his visit is to convince his cantankerous 81-year-old able master of American Southern theater, to follow his doctor’s orders. But Harry’s younger sister, Sarah, and her boy-toy husband, Paul, drive down from Austin to join them, and the anticipated low-key reunion evolves instead into a vicious showdown. If Dressler’s succinct, thoughtful work comes closer, in both structure and content, to a play than a novel, that is no accident. Two protagonists, Harry and his father, are playwrights; two others, Sarah and Paul, are filmmakers. Consequently, The Floodmakers is rife with dramatic allusions and stage language. Like the drama of Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee, it’s capable of provoking emotion strong enough to leave you numb. As in traditional theater, the structure is fairly unified. The story unfolds within a 24-hour period and is staged, almost exclusively, in a Gulf Coast beach house with occasional flashbacks to a New York City apartment. \(Harry, the narrator, segues back and forth between the past and the present, and between his life in New York and the Gulf Coast small cast, and each actor plays a decisive role in the drama’s resolution. Thirty-six-year-old Harry characterizes himself as “a natural born social dweeb.” He is an uninspired, gay playwright writing experimental theater, which his father describes as “People standing around half naked with their hands up waiting for random stage directions to fall from the ceiling.” Harry lives on the proceeds of his trust fund and is preyed upon by lovers who are attracted by his father’s reputation. “No one looks at you with eyes like that,” he writes of his most recent lover, “unless they think they can get to something through you, unless they think you point the way to a pot of gold, even believed the gold was already dripping through you like sap.” His sister Sarah shares his sentiment: “Being the child of a white haired southern icon is like floating face up in a punch bowl….Everyone wants to dip in.” Sarah should know. A victim of epilepsy since childhood, she has worked as an installation artist, sculptor, tattoo designer, art gallery owner, and specialty leather consultant. In her current incarnation she is a filmmaker. Assertive and vindictive, she has recently married the least appropriate man she could find, a man with ulterior motives. Twentyone-year old Paulshallow and easily manipulatedwants to become a playwright like his celebrated father-in-law and is willing to do anything to achieve that end. The ostensible purpose of their visit is to complete a documentary film about Dee. Dee and his second wife Jean have developed a theatrical flair for hogging stage-center, but with age and deteriorating health they seem to be spending more time in the wings. Buelle is patronizing and sardonic, downright nasty at times, but in possession of a Mylene Dressler photo: Fannie Tapper keen intellect, wry humor and disarming manner. According to Harry, he could “[morph] from a sly fox into a living saint the minute the lens cap popped off.” While endowed with a brilliant capacity for producing heart-wrenching drama, Dee is emotionally numb where his own family is concerned. During one dramatically charged episode, he tells his children of a casual encounter on the beach with a naked young man on a star kite: I never really knew, until that moment, until that very moment, that in spite of everything I’ve tried, everything I’ve gone ahead and set up, I wasn’t really such a wise parent. Because I hadn’t made my children ebullient… Then I thought, Now why does this boy seem so much nicer than my children? Jean is by far the more sensitive of the two. A former golf pro who is strong, intelligent, and “carefully ladylike,” she raised Harry and Sarah from childhood and played a conciliatory role in the relationship between Dee and his children. Thus, it is no coincidence that 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER .10/8/04