August 27, 2011

On the Shelf - The Gay Place

Happy 103rd (this would be)...

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.


GSV JR said...

Sounds interesting. And McMurtry is the "Mc" that hardly ever gets a mention amidst McCarthy's Hemingway revival.

The Last Picture Show was my teenage introduction to the Texas I didn't know, and Lonesome Dove was my reintroduction to the Texas I thought I knew, but only from threadbare stereotypes, all hat no cattle crap. Reread it nearly every year. And the miniseries is pretty damn great too.

Amatourist said...

It really is a great read. I've neither seen nor read Lonesone Dove in far-too-long; you've reminded me how over due I am.

Which brings to mind another story, little off topic but indulge me...

A couple years back Billy Joe Shaver was on trial for shooting a guy in the face with a .22 outside a bar in Waco. Claimed self defense. Willie Nelson and Robert Duvall testified on his behalf and the verdict, Not Guilty. Hard to convict a man when Gus McCrae (another Mc) is your character witness.

Also probably helped that the guy lived. Shaver's apology went something along the lines of, "I'm sorry about the incident... hopefully we can become friends enough so that he gives me back my bullet."

GSV JR said...

No shocker there. Those black hats aren't window dressing.