One for the Books
Joe O'Connell's Top Reads of 2015
Paradise Sky and The Best I Recall head a list of stellar Lone Star books
Reviewed by Joe O'Connell, Fri., Jan. 1, 2016
In my favorite 2015 read, Joe Lansdale takes on the mythically true-ish story of Nat Love, an African-American marksman nicknamed Deadwood Dick who was both a marshal and a Buffalo Soldier. Along the novel's picaresque journey, Love is tracked by a racist killer seeking revenge. Paradise Sky (Mulholland Books), like Lansdale's equally fine 2013 novel The Thicket, channels Mark Twain. It's fun, beautifully written, and, most important, captures a neglected piece of the American puzzle.
Charles Baxter is known as a writer's writer. His collection There's Something I Want You to Do cements that rep with stories divided into virtues and vices. The story "Loyalty" shines the brightest with its abandoned husband coming to the aid of his crazed ex-wife. Baxter's tales are elegant gems of humanity. Austinite Elizabeth Harris' novel Mayhem reverberates around a castration done in anger after a potential rape in rural 1936 Texas. The fine prose echoes Katherine Anne Porter in its sense of place.
Gary Cartwright's memoir The Best I Recall (UT Press) was my favorite nonfiction work of 2015. It follows Cartwright's career from Sixties Dallas/Ft. Worth, reporting sports alongside Bud Shrake, Blackie Sherrod, and Dan Jenkins, to drug-addled Seventies Austin and his days at Texas Monthly. But his honest take on the losses of late life make this book truly a keeper.
Amanda Eyre Ward's novel of the migrant journey, The Same Sky (Ballantine), is the most important book to come out of Austin this year. Debra Monroe's blue-collar-to-academia memoir My Unsentimental Education (University of Georgia Press) is as well-written as it is wise. Jesse Sublett gets wonderfully gritty in his true-crime book 1960s Austin Gangsters: Organized Crime That Rocked the Capital (Arcadia Publishing). Former Austinite Dao Strom mixes music and memoir in the lyrical We Were Meant to Be a Gentle People (MPMP), a book/album examining memory and identity. I just read Elizabeth McCracken's masterful 2014 collection, Thunderstruck and Other Stories (Dial Press). You should too.