more mouthwateringly defamatory than the last. It’s to Swift’s enormous credit that he celebrates the embeldies their talk, its always done kindly, without a whiff of bigcity condescension or misogyny. To the contrary, Swift seems endlessly enthralled by the oratorical talents of Texas women, from his scarlet ladies \(like Splendora’s resident va-va-voom like Sister Louise Owens, a woman capable, in Swift’s memoir, of self-dramatizthese mouthy ladies, Swift seems to have drawn inspiration from them. In a 2002 interview with Swift in the Austin Chronicle, Clay Smith recounts the following story: “Four years ago [Swift] submitted a manuscript, The Daughter of the Doctor and the Saint, to four houses under the name Maria de la Luz … about an impresario … who runs one of the nation’s most famous bordellos. … Through his agent, Swift had submitted the very same manuscript to 12 editors two years before he concocted Maria de la Luz and got no response. But when Maria de la Luz wrote it, all four editors wrote back right away … one of them, from Algonquin, was intrigued enough to call Maria de la Luz at home, which is when things got interesting. Swift had put his home phone number on the front page of his manuscript. … After several phone conversations with the editor in which he stalled, saying that Maria de la Luz was sick, [Swift] finally fessed up. There was a long silence on the other end of the line. ‘Oh, I was afraid I was going to hear this, she said … .” The reason Swift felt driven to invent such a ruse was that after the publication of Principia Martindale, his second novel, after grabbing rave reviews in major newspapers \(including and national magazines, he seemed, suddenly, to become invisible. “My first two books were reviewed everywhere,” the author told Smith, “and then people stopped reviewing me:’ Swift’s former Doubleday editor told Smith, “At first Edward was trying to please himself, but also work within the conventions of the New York literary world, and then I think he stopped being concerned about that” His work came to be considered too “unusual … too fanciful” for the tastes of New York marketing departments, Swift told Smith. To those readers acquainted with the writer’s Big Thicket roots, it seems unlikely that Swift’s outlook could have grown more peculiar. Rather than becoming progressively weirder, Swift was simply coming closer to homehis warped, Gothic torch for East Texas burning ever more brightly. Long before I made that benighted trip to Woodville in fact, just after I first finished poring through his booksI resolved to meet Swift. I telephoned his publisher, who gave me an e-mail address, and later that day I managed to reach the author in New York City, his home of more than 30 years, just as he was boxing up his life to move to Mexico. “Mr. Swift,” I told him, “I’d like to meet you. Someday, I’d like to write something about you and your books. They’ve meant so much to me.” “You must have read Splendora,” he said, offhandedly, as though I were being awfully boring. “Oh, Mr. Swift:’ I answered. “I’ve read all your books.” “You have?” he asked. Two days later, I visited his Manhattan apartment near 18th and 8tha tiny, eccentric cave for a giant, eccentric man. He was enormously tall and thin, with an Indian nose, and very thick, very white hair pulled into a ponytail. Dressed all in black, Swift looked New York, but his voice was East Texas in a way that almost doesn’t exist anymore. As he told one harrowingly funny story after the next, he’d rush his words quickly, then halt suddenly, with terrific drama. One story recounted his mother’s veiled attempts to explain that one of Edward’s childhood playmates was a hermaphrodite: “Eddie,” she said, with raised eyebrow and great significance, “so-and-so neither shops in the ladies’ nor the gentlemen’s department.” Another involved a friend from Dallas who killed herself on Oscar night: “I just don’t care who wins anymore!” were her final, despairing words. Yet another included a delightful impression of Maxine Mesinger, the late Houston gossip columnist and a friend of Swift’s, purring into the telephone: “One moment, darrllingg, I’m on the other line with 0-liv-i-a-de-Hav-i-lland.” I spent the evening beguiled by Swift, as charmed by his conversation as I’d been by his writing. We talked about our great and mixed love for Texas, of our mothers and our writing. When I described to him my struggles with my book, he became serious, offering encouraging stories of his own pitfalls and triumphs. Just before leaving, I asked him to autograph copies of his books I’d brought with me. After he signed them, he did a lovely thing. In a long-past, gentler day, certain New York publishers presented authors with a single, leather-bound copy of their books as mementos commemorating its publication. That evening in his dismantled apartment, Swift asked me to wait while he rummaged through a series of half-packed cardboard boxes and retrieved the single, shopworn, Morocco-bound copy of Splendora Viking had given him in 1978. Then he signed the book For Robert and stuck it, along with the others, into my book bag. I’m surely not the first to point out that the Texas canon, as currently compiled, greatly privileges the Southwestern over the Southern, the masculine over the feminine, or that machismo is prized in Austin literary circles even more highly than those of New York or L.A. So it isn’t surprising that Swift’s Lone Star fabulousness has failed to find footstandard. It is nevertheless a sad predicament in which Swift has found himselftoo truly, startlingly Texan for New York City, too fey for Texas. Isn’t it strange? In such a large state, you’d think there’d be more room. As for Edward Swift, he’s gone and moved to Mexico. Robert Leleux, author of The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy, lives in New York but misses Houston. JULY 11, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.