Monday, March 06, 2006

Bryan Curtis on The Great Texas Novel

Bryan Curtis is deputy culture editor at Slate. He was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and educated at the University of Texas at Austin. Some of my favorite recent articles by him are about Larry the Cable Guy, New York Times columnist Frank Rich, and magician-comedian-writer Penn Jillette.

In addition to a few promising leads for my search for The Great Texas novel, Bryan offered a couple of contenders of his own:
I can't claim to have surveyed Texas lit as thoroughly as I would have liked. Not that there's that much to like--Larry McMurtry wrote a semi-famous essay a few years ago about how puny the state's literary achievements were. The most frequent cites for "best novel" are McMurtry's own early books (The Last Picture Show, most prominently) or Billy Lee Brammer's The Gay Place, which is a roman a clef about the author's years working for Lyndon Johnson. (If you like All the King's Men, you'll love this. It's much better-written.)
I know about McMurtry but The Gay Place was new to me. Maybe it shouldn't be, what with some high praise from people who ought to know about these things.

Willie Morris called The Gay Place a "symphony of politics and sex and ambition and the immense Texas landscape [that] remains the great authentic modern novel we have yet of the state."

David Halberstam ranked it alongside All the King's Men in a rave review in the New York Times Book Review in 1961 and predicted it would be read "a hundred years from now."

More recently, Mark Costello refers to it in this review as a sort of reference point for Waterloo by Karen Olsson, a 2005 novel soaked in Texas politics.

For the reprint version of The Gay Place, Don Graham, J. Frank Dobie Regents Professor at The University of Texas, wrote a very insightful introduction that is available online.

(About the title, Graham writes: "The title, of course, sounds faintly archaic now, the word 'gay' having undergone a permanent sea change within just a few short years of the book's publication.")

Thanks to Bryan for the help and the insights.

--Marshal Zeringue