;;. ,-*; …………….. entra exas Gardener 7.”Ai NOVERM:-. aos KLRU-TV, Austin PBS, creates innovative television that inspires and educates, KLRU-produced programs that air statewide on Texas PBS stations include Central Texas Gardener, Texas Monthly Talks and The Biscuit Brothers. Check your local Listings. kiru tv and beyond klru.org she’s ever had, and for years Blythe has avoided her in favor of the Kippie Lee Teeters of the world. Books about brittle socialites who let their roots grow out to “find themselves” generally leave me coldusually all you’re left with is a tiresome person with ugly hairbut How Perfect Is That is not that book. Millie finds that she needs Blythe as much as Blythe needs her. Millie has harnessed herself to selfless, sexless rounds of good-hearted drudgery \(feedher love life is going nowhere fast. Blythe intervenes, with initially disastrous but ultimately inspired results. By novel’s end, Millie is bound for a honeymoon \(albeit and Blythe is left to continue Millie’s work at Seneca Housea not entirely humanitarian endeavor since Kippie Lee Teeter has agreed to pay off Blythe’s back taxes in exchange. To our heroine’s great surprise, the same criminal instincts that once put her at the peak of Pemberton Heights society now make her an ideal attendant to the Austin social strata’s other extreme. So what if Blythe won’t ever possess Millie’s knee-jerk virtue? “The problem with doing good:’ she discovers, “is that it is too often done by the good:’ Blythe’s “real gift” to the often-reckless teen runaways she feeds and counsels “is that they know they can never put anything over on me. The ones who’ve been on the street the longest recognize me for the scammer/grifter I will always be. So they listen when I impart the sort of wisdom Millie never had access to. Like how to charm and flatter when you need to; how to get Mom’s boyfriend off you; how to pretend to be a lot better person than you are until you actually become a better person:’ By the end of this refreshing story, Blythe actually has become a better person, beginning by oh-so-painfully accepting responsibility for her failed marriage. Sure, her ex-husband Trey the Third was the smooth-talking, witless minion of his plague of a mother, but then again, Blythe married him. Finally, she can acknowledge tolerating the despicable Dixes only for fortune’s sake, that she married Trey for the money. “My original sin was greed:’ she admits. “I wanted more. I wanted wretched excess … [Peggy BiggsDix] had the goods on me from the getgo … I hated her because she played the game so much better than I ever could:’ It’s a come-to-Jesus moment with which many should be able to identify during the Bush administration’s final lap. It’s almost irresistible to dwell on the real-life models behind Bird’s story, but to do so would be a disservice to her novel, which is a ringtailed delight for many reasons besides Bush-baiting. Not the least of these is that after only 163 years of statehood, Texas has finally got its first genuine comedy of manners. This is a banner event, y’all, a big, civilizing step forward. How Perfect Is That is the sort of Clare Boothe Luce-styled satire of big-money mores usually set in New York or London, but never, until now, in pokey old Austin. As references to Enron’s collapse and “Shock and Awe” flash through Blythe’s background, Depression-era comedies like Luce’s The Women \(not to mention Kaufman & Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You and Ferber & Kaufman’s begin to seem startlingly relevant. There are also hefty doses of Thackeray and Wharton in How Perfect Is That. So it’s entirely possible to see the novel as a contemporary Texan retelling of The House of Mirth in which Lily Bart doesn’t die of squalor and sleeping draughts, but instead gets a helping hand from drab Gerty Farish, then the girls go out on the town. Damn straight. If W’s administration has done us any favors, maybe it’s having made Texas a plausible setting for a wider range of fictions. I’m not sure whether this means that Texas has become more generally American during these last eight years, or America has become more Texan. It seems significant to remember that in 1961, when Billy Lee Brammer published The Gay Place, his classic novel of Austin, he did so without naming the citya decision made partly, no doubt, to avoid tying the book too closely to an unrepresentative region. Today, Austin can function as a fictional “anyplace:’ Like it or not, the cross of the Bush presidency is uniquely ours to bear. Since we’ve had to put up with him longer than anybody, we get first dibs on the kvetching rightsrights it would be hard to exercise more charmingly than Sarah Bird has done here. Texan-in-exile Robert Leleux is the author of The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy. He lives in New York City. NOVEMBER 14, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29
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