On the Way With L.B.J. (Aug. 27, 1960)
“The country is most barbarously large and final. It is too much country—boondock country—alternately drab and dazzling, spectral and remote. It is so wrongfully muddled and various that it is difficult to conceive of it as all of a piece. Though it begins simply enough, as a part of the other." - Billy Lee Brammer. "The Flea Circus" in The Gay Place, p. 1.
One needn't look any farther than the archaic title of Billy Lee Brammer's classic 1961 novel to see just how much life has changed in the past fifty years. And novel it was... a debut piece of fiction by a 32 y.o., standing timeless and firm among works by the likes of veterans McMurtry and McCarthy.
The Gay Place is actually a compendium of three related novellas, which share characters, settings, and themes, and paint a broad-stroke landscape of an exasperating yet irresistible politico life in 50's Texas. And throughout, two themes maintain the integrity of the fabric: i) "marital alienation and infidelity”; and ii) “an outrageous Texas governor called Arthur 'Goddam' Fenstemaker," based primarily on the peccadilloes of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Set in points in and around Austin, it describes a capital city that no longer exists and a political landscape turned on its head. A time when you had to have a "D" beside your name to get elected anything from dog catcher to governor. It was all but required reading for young government majors at the University of Texas, a requirement we gladly obliged.
Photo via: LBJ Library & Museum.