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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Nowhere Else but Waterloo Slackers, lounge lizards and politicos aplenty in Olsson’s fictional Austin BY KAREN OLSSON “Surrounded by attractive hills and spring-fed streams, Waterloo is regarded as a pleasant city by locals and visitors alike,” writes former Observer editor Karen Olsson in the introduction to her debut novel, set in a laid-back provincial capital with a population of 600,000. “Waterloo,” she continues, “grew to be a center of learning, a good town for live entertainment, and an incubator of laziness. Rather than visionaries, the city would eventually harbor state legislators and musicians, “two populations who, despite their very different styles of dress, were united in their desires not to have to work too hard, to be locally renowned, and to drink beer paid for by somebody else. In this they were generally content, though when the weather shifted, one could occasionally catch a whiff of old buried ambitions.” Populated by slacker reporters, lounge-lizard lobbyists, and state-house politicos, Olsson’s novel is a fine and ever-so-thinly disguised portrait of contemporary Austin, nee Waterloo, down to minute details of geography, geology, and “old buried ambitions.” The following article features two of Olsson’s fictional politicos: a newly elected conservative assemblywoman, Beverly Flintic, and the handsome but none-too-bright Commissioner of Human Needs, Mark Hardaway, the gubernatorial candidate with whom Flintic is having an affair. This article is excerpted from WATERLOO by Karen Olsson, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC Copyright 2005 by Karen Olsson. All rights reserved. ITI hey sat on opposite sides of the bed, backs to each other, and put on their socks. Beverly faced the windows, framed by heavy drapes they had not bothered to close; through the glass she could see the upper stories of an office building and a blank slab of sky. Hardaway regarded himself in the mirrored door to the closet, meeting his own eyes as he turned his second sock right side out. It was a king-size bed, and so they sat well apart, the top sheet twisted into a cordon marking off their separate sections of mattress. The sterile smell of mass laundering still clung to the bed, while most of the human odors had already been sucked up into the ventilation system. He aimed his feet into limp brown dress socks; she worked her thigh-high nylons up around her calves. His cell phone rang. Mark Hardaway walked to the window in his shirt and shorts and socks, and planted himself right in front of Beverly, his back to her. She checked the clock beside the bed. It was ten after one. He told the phone that he was just finishing lunch and fix ing to leave right now. The backs of his legs were tennis-firm and tan beneath curling dark hair. He said no, I didn’t forget the meeting. His long blue shirttail hung down to his thighs. Okay, he said. Just hang tight. Those very broad shoulders of his, broad like in cartoons of soldiers or airline pilots, went tense, and Beverly rested her gaze on the place where his thick electable hair met his neck. His head was cocked to the left, bracing the phone as he buttoned his shirt. The stubby antenna popped up above his ear. Okay okay okay, he said. That she was sleeping with him was remarkable to Beverly. Once, naively, she’d thought that the fact of marriage would protect her from something as trivial as this liaison. She had not thought of herself as the type to have affairs. The very word affair had seemed made-up, a tacky thing from television or California, like hot tub and limousine and singles bar. And to wind up with Mark Hardawaywho did seem like the type to have an affair, but with a twenty-year-old, one of those college girls who trotted around the Capitol in heeled sandals and tight sleeveless shirts. Not a fellow elected official, not someone married and thirty-nine. The first afternoon she’d found herself lying naked in a room not unlike this one, what she’d really wanted to do was to call one of her college friends. You’ll never guess where I am. It had seemed funny, the whole thing like an early-morning dream in which someone you’ve never thought about in any sort of sexual way takes on erotic significance. It hadn’t exactly felt as if she were cheating on Owenanother odd notion. It didn’t seem to have much to do with him. Mark, pacing now, told the phone that he’d be back as soon as he could, and after ending the call checked the time on the display. “Shoot. You mind if I leave first?” He reached for his pants. They had a rule about staggering their arrivals and departures by fifteen minutes. “I’ve got a meeting,” he said. “What is it?” Beverly was already dressed and fastening her necklace. Mark had been the one to leave first last time; she ought to have been first today. The hotel was five miles north of the Capitol, a twenty-minute drive. They wouldn’t risk anything closer. “The Association of Adult Educators. I think that’s the name. They want grants for job training.” “Sounds pretty important.” Sarcasm didn’t come naturally to her, and either Hardaway didn’t notice her tone or he ignored it. 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 21, 2005