Writer, continued from page 23 next century. He hadn’t liked it then and he didn’t like it now. But he remained a Southern boy, stubborn as red dirt, bound and determined to stick to his last, lost cause or not, and to believe forever in that brand of truth and justice that had first set him free. And he was a magazine writer. His job was to hammer the detritus of fugitive cultural encounters into elegant sentences, lapidary paragraphs, and knowable truth; and, in truth, the loveliness and lucidity of Grover’s writing always rose to the triviality of the occasion. His burden was to suffer that chronic, Promethean anguish known only to when, to put it mildly, Grover was a very grumpy dude, prowling like a blind lynx around the apartment in Santa Monica where he and his wife Rae had finally come to rest. I would drop by and find him reading ten books, one page at a time, making encyclopedic tapes of all his favorite songs, fulminating against things in general and writing at a pace that was stately even by Grover’s standards. It was not a good time, but finally, with nothing much to look forward to, Grover began looking back, tentatively at first, but then with a longer, stronger gaze at his final, terrible treasure, that brutal world of Texas white-trash geek History and legend bind us to the past, along with an unquenchable memory. In the spring of 1943, my parents Grover Lewis, a truck driver, and Opal Bailey Lewis, a hotel waitressshot each other to death with a pawnshop pistol. For almost a year, Big Grover had stalked my mother, my four-year-old sister, and me across backwater Texas, resisting Opal’s decision to divorce him. When she finally did, and when he finally cornered her and pulled the trigger as he’d promised to do, she seized the gun and killed him, too. To no one’s surprise but his own, Grover got a contract to write this book, his first, for real money. About a month Grover was nobody’s dream date. But he had an air about him, something likeable and complicated. He had this lanky Texas stance, a big mouth with a big smile, and attired as he usually was, in boots, jeans, and some goofy forties shirt, faintly squiffed and glaring at you through those thick Coke-bottle glasses, he was a caricaturist’s delight. slow writers with short deadlines and absolute standards, and he had lived with that. Whatever it cost Flaubert to conjure up le mot juste for Madame Bovary’s trousseau, Grover paid comparable prices to evoke the butch camaraderie on the location of some lamentable movie, to capture the joy and desperation of some unremembered rock concert in a gym in southeastern New Mexico, to dramatize the antic absurdity of lunch with Paul Newman at the Pump Room. He accepted that discipline and bowed to it, soothing the anguish with whiskey, amphetamines, and carloads of cigarettes. But the work dried up anyway. In Grover’s view, this was because editors, at present, were either corporate swine or academic twits and he, Grover Lewis, had his fucking standards. I suggested that Marie Antoinette had her fucking standards, too, but to no avail. So there were several years in the eighties dom from whence he sprangat the redneck tribes of sharecroppers, welldiggers, religious maniacs, and petty thugs from whose blunt ignorance he had struggled so mightily to liberate himself. Opening up those raw memories gave him nightmares for a while, but even so, in 1992, he accepted the assignment to return to Texas and write a piece for Texas Monthly about Oak Cliff, the working-class suburb of Dallas where he spent the best part of a childhood that, in truth, had no best part at all. “Farewell to Cracker Eden” turned out to be a hard and beautiful piece of writing, and Grover was heartened by its reception. So, finally, in his most Faulknerian manner, he “resolved to track the black beast to its lair.” He wrote a proposal for an autobiographical book about those years. It was to be called Goodbye If You Call That Gone, and it began like this: after that, Grover and I had a long conversation about the book. By this time he was fully aware of the ironies that swirled around the project. It was not a story he was born to write, he said: he had already written that in a thousand magazines with the shelf life of milk. It was, however, the book he had to write because he was born where and when he was, and to whom. And he planned to write it with a vengeance because, at one level, he had been “Lonesome Doved,” as he called it, referring to the experience of his friend McMurtry, who after twenty years of writing firstrate novels about living Americans in the contemporary moment, had been rewarded finally for a mythic novel based on an old screenplay about archetypal cowboys. So Grover had a little litany that he had clearly worked up with me in mind: “They will admire you for writing about the present, oh yeah. But they 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 24, 2005
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