The Texas Gamut

Titles From Texas

I was sitting at the kitchen table with coffee in hand and The Essential Hank Snow on the CD machine. As "Rumba Boogie" boogied in the background I wondered if ol' Clarence E. aka "Hank" Snow would enjoy the Kinkster's latest literary endeavor. I figured he would, given the subject matter and the fact that he and Lyle Lovett look so much alike. I then began to wonder just what kind of person would enjoy reading Road Kill (Simon & Schuster, $23 hard). This is what I've come up with. If you like Willie Nelson you will like this book, no doubt about it, because Willie is one of the main characters. Kinky, of course, is the main character, but Willie and his whole fam damly are in this episode of the Kinkster's ongoing unauthorized autobiography.

If you believe that smoking marijuana is the very best way there is to get your roughage every day you will like this book. It's not a mystery in this mystery that it's Willie, not Kinky, who is the pot smoker. Everybody knows Willie smokes pot. But not everybody knows that marijuana is the second leading cash crop in California. Willie has always supported the American farmer.

If riding down the highway with Willie on his bus, Honeysuckle Rose, is one of your fantasies, this book is for you. Rose herself is a player in this tale of fate, hatred, and deception. Willie and his gang find themselves rolling down a Western highway late one night straight into a situation that proves once again that the "road" is a dangerous place whether you're riding or walking.

If you are a cigar smoker you will enjoy this book. Kinky smokes a lot of cigars, both as a real life and a fictional hero. Whenever we meet, be it real-life or fiction, he always offers me one of his El Ropo Horríble Supremos. I think I still have the one from last year's Fourth of July Picnic.

If you think all dogs are cowboys and all cats are Indians, you should read Road Kill. Kinky, the private Dick, has a cat in his New York digs that he digs and he has Indians in his digs that he digs, but he has at least one more Indian than either he or his pal and client, Willie, the public Nelson, need. The cat is mostly noncommittal, responding only to food and magic and the extra Indian seems to be committed to mayhem.

Let's say that you have friends with names like Rambam and Gater and Ratso and Joe the Hyena and even you think they are strange. You're going to love this book.

If you believe that Lone Star is the Dr Pepper of bottled beer, have been married three or more times, and believe that Barry Manilow is something that should have been done years ago, Road Kill is for you.

If you are Jewish you'll like this book.

Should you be a survivor of the Great Progressive Country Music Scare of the Mid-Seventies and have ever looked in the mirror and seen a stranger, you should read this book.

On the negative side of the ledger, if you ever voted for or supported Richard Nixon in any way, shape, or form, you are not going to enjoy this mystery novel at all. If, however, you were not offended by the late president's usage of expletives, you will not be offended by the marvelous selection of four-letter words and the combinations thereof to be found in Road Kill. Swearing is a folk art in Texas and The Kinkster is a formidable practitioner.

Finally, if you love Texas, you'll love this book. Not that it is all about Texas, but part of it takes place in our beloved Lone Star State, and it is written by our own Texas Jew-boy and it is written about a living Texas legend and, by God, I'm a native Texan and I say that not runnin' right out to your favorite bookstore and buying Road Kill is a very un-Texan-like thing to do. Besides, this book makes a wonderful gift for any occasion. Hell, I've already given my copy away.
-Steve Fromholz

Originally conceived as an exhibition program organized for FotoFest 1992 in Houston, and later as a traveling exhibition, thanks to the editorial effort of Wendy Watriss, Boris Kossoy, Fernando Castro, and Lois Parkinson Zamora, Image and Memory: Photography From Latin America, 1866-1994 (University of Texas Press, $65 hard) is now an accessible publication which includes essays written in both English and Spanish by experts in related fields of Latin American Studies. Published by the University of Texas Press in conjunction with FotoFest, this book documents the work of 50 photographers from 10 Latin American countries. The 177 photographs in this book are organized in 15 categories, which are sometimes hard to follow, since the organizing criteria follows both chronological and geographical principles. The first category pertains to the crucial War of the Triple Alliance (1866-1870) and quickly jumps to a more pictorial category represented by photographs of the Brazilian Frontier from 1880 to 1910. Other categories address the politically charged field of ethnography, focusing on Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, and Ecuador. Two sections are dedicated to works of women and focus on Argentinean women photographers and Mexican photographer Flor Garduño respectively. The final sections address modern Latin American landscape and political events from Brazil, Venezuela, El Salvador, and Colombia.

Some of the photos in Image and Memory appear in print for the first time. This is one of the best achievements of this publication, concomitant with its heightening the awareness and appreciation of Latin American photography. More importantly, Image and Memory attempts to provide an introduction to the identification, interpretation, and historical development of Latin American photography. Latin photographers have addressed colonization, indigenous resistance, mestizaje, modernization and modernity, political and social injustice, and acculturation.

The essays highlight the cultural influences of individual photographers. The first essay, written by Wendy Watriss, provides the curatorial overview of the photographs. She addresses the criteria and selection of the works published emphasizing photographers with a strong cultural link as a source of inspiration. But such a broad criteria (if followed) would represent a monumental task since most, if not all, Latin American photographers are influenced by their cultural backgrounds. Watriss claims that the selection of photographs is not intended to be a formal history nor comprehensive survey of Latin American photographers. The organization, the selection of the photographers, photos, and countries represented in this curatorial effort present a difficult if not confusing undertaking.

Photohistorian Boris Kossoy provides a lengthy historical view of landscapes and portraiture. Latin America's photographic history was used as a tool for documenting urban and rural landscapes, modernization of cities, scenes of everyday life, and social conflict. Kossoy addresses the importance of the ethnographic portraits of Peruvian photographer Martín Chambi, but fails to mention his achievements. A pioneer in the field of photo-ethnography, he embraced the advances in photo technology early. As an Indian, he was able to document the traditions of his people as well as the modern urban scene - Chambi was one of the first photographers to document the just-discovered archeological site of Macchu Picchu.

Fernando Castro's essay covers the political realities of Latin America. Castro discusses how 20th-century documentary photography has played an important role in creating and preserving public memory of historical events. He focuses on the photographic efforts during the Mexican, Cuban, and Nicaraguan revolutions, and addresses works that have documented more recent political events in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Mexico. He provides a good, general political overview, focusing on images of El Salvador, from 1980 to 1992.

The book concludes with an essay by Lois Parkinson Zamora entitled "Quetzalcoatl's Mirror: Reflections on the Photographic Image in Latin America." This literary essay examines the cultural roots of visual imagery in Latin American photographers. She provides insight into the historical and cultural context in which Latin American photography has been produced. Zamora refers to the European aesthetic sources and discusses how these influences have been modified in Latin America, such as the role of Catholicism and its accompanying ideologies of nationalism, individualism, and progress. She addresses the works of Mexican photographer Flor Garduño and Luis González Palma of Guatemala. These photographers share an acute aesthetic sensibility and skillful reappropriation of cultural icons. The nature of memory and its representation are embedded in the works of these artists.

The content of this book will undoubtedly make a contribution in the analysis of the diverse body of works of Latin American photography. Given that many photographs in this volume are published for the first time, its contribution to the history of Latin American photography is key. This tome, which handsomely reproduces a wide variety of works from different countries and different historical periods, provides a panoramic introduction both to art lover and scholar. Such an inventory of works encourages dialogue among critics, viewers, and photographers in terms of European sources in diverse Latin American aesthetic positions, the use of documentary versus art photography and the construction of national identities through image making. The provocative images make up for the inconsistency of presentation and lack of focus in the essays.- Herlinda Zamora

A native of Pittsburgh, a Penn State M.A., currently an Austin landscaper, 47-year-old REYOUNG has just had Unbabbling (Dalkey Archive Press, $13.95 paper), his first volume of fiction, published. Unbabbling contains three related novellas, during which he ponders "the reason, if any to go on," and investigates his notion that "existence seems to go on and on in an endless cycle of destruction and creation, the chimera with tail in mouth." He proceeds by "...trying to compress the greatest amount of time and experience into the smallest denominations.... A sort of matrix in which everything, all the means of telling tales, legends, historical events (without, in most cases, labeling them and thereby setting limits to them), memories, oral biographies, scripture, theologies and philosophies, art, music - get tangled up in a big soup that transcends the borders of time and space." In the first novella, Harry, an aspiring writer who makes his living as a laborer, gets married to the painter Cassa. Her well-connected father tries to set Harry up in a job with a "future" and eventually Harry does wind up someplace wearing a suit and a tie and making money. They have a kid and Harry adopts a middle-class lifestyle, but eventually starts to hate his bourgeois existence. Harry begins drinking too much, leaves Cassa, and goes back to an old girlfriend, but that doesn't work. When we leave him, he's drunk and confused.

Luce, the name of the protagonist in "Hell Squared," the second novella, is, according to REYOUNG, a play on light, "Luce, light in Italian, thus Lucifer, thus Prometheus, Faust, the messiah, any revolutionary or dreamer who disturbs the calm, who sees beyond this world, who grasps the fire he or she can only imperfectly wield... In the end the conclusion [for the Luces] is always the same, not just the insanity but the impossibility of existence."

We meet Luce as a teenager living in a shack with an old man in a city where terrorism is running rampant. The old man is killed; the boy, thrown back on his own resources, befriends another teenager, Nakt (night), and becomes a revolutionary. Initially his ally, Nakt betrays him. He's imprisoned, tortured. As he's dying, REYOUNG writes, "...he had to sleep and maybe later, maybe later he'd remember, he'd try to remember again, but it'd be better, it'd be better if he remembered it differently, next time." So we see the historical cycle REYOUNG refers to.

The last portion of this triptych, "Manhole," or "Babble On," has a more humorous quality. Erde (earth), imprisoned underground, tunnels his way into an Odyssey during which he encounters a talking bear, a talking missile, and stumbles into a subterranean city populated by skeletons. Eventually he winds up back in the rat race, "cold, wet, hungover.... A cop shines a flashlight down at you. Get a move on buddy," he says.

Unbabbling cannot be evaluated in a sentence or two. All of the sections in the book have a hallucinatory quality. The first two seem set in a location reminiscent of Blade Runner, with crumbling buildings and poverty-stricken people everywhere and a feeling of menace in the air. Certainly it's an ambitious and passionately written volume that took a good deal of time and effort to complete. REYOUNG has made frequent, if veiled, references to his life, the lives of his acquaintances and things he's read and thought deeply about. He writes evocatively, at times using poetic prose and long sentences like this one that's 150 words long and begins, "Or was that some crazy dream of her own, wound up on an old gramophone, on a spool of black and white celluloid, if only she could find the right button to push, the right switch to throw and fill the city and the streets with carhorns and neon lights and fashion models on parade...."

REYOUNG's style of compressing material is unique and viable; time passes so swiftly that events seem pancaked on one another, but I'm not convinced that he's used it to the best advantage. The artist, scientist, or visionary who sells out or is tempted to do so is fairly common in fiction and films and needs to be individualized. But Harry merely seems like a construction representing a type. The chaotic, violent, decaying environment in which "Hell Squared" occurs also seems artificially pieced together. In attempting to universalize people and situations he's made them generic, thus reducing their impact on readers.

Then there are clichés of various kinds in the book; a hard-bitten foreman yells at workers, "Alright you fuckups! he hollers in a voice with whiskey, tobacco, years of cursing the boss above and the man below. But you better get some sleep tonight because tomorrow I'm gonna bust your fucking ass!"

There's too much self-conscious masculinity in these novels and too much melodrama. Also self-conscious are REYOUNG's attempts to be informal and funny, his "Hooo, boy!," his "Ello, What 'ave we 'ere? A mouse is it? A bloody big mouse?.... Been samplin' the guv'nor's cheeses again, 'as ya, mousie? Wot?" Like many other writers, REYOUNG does some things well, some not so well. He's impressive at times, but tries too hard to do too much.- Harvey Pekar

Well, I'll be. Thought I'd picked up a novel and damned if a Western didn't break out. It was all there: plenny of gunfights, poker games, and bawdy-house whores; bad whiskey, men named "Kid," and sundown stagecoach heists; a stoic hero, a surly sidekick, an honest horse, and, at least in this instance, the liberal use of the word "sputum." Fanciers of the American West will doubtless know that the words "outlaw" and "sputum" were never so finely mixed as in the consumptive case of John Henry "Doc" Holliday (CSA), the hack-throated ex-dentist who shot up his fair share of cowpunchers plus some while marauding the Western frontier. By all accounts Doc Holliday was a contrary figure, a temperamental man possessed of a strange mix of high and low morals (albeit most of them low). That's the popular portrait, anyway, and El Paso resident Randy Lee Eickhoff's historical novel The Fourth Horseman (Forge, $24.95 hard) does little to dispute it. Eickhoff's Holliday is an appropriately headstrong and at times smarmy little turd, equal parts churlish sophistication and elementary rage, quoting Seneca in one breath and damning Yankee "goat-pumpers" in the next.

How much of Eickhoff's goat-pumping is fact and how much is fiction remains deliberately unclear, but for Eickhoff, the roots of Holliday's anger can be found in the embers of a wartime Georgia youth. The Fourth Horseman opens with Holliday still searching for chin whiskers, a young Southern soul fresh from the War: He is racist, impudent, angry at God and the carpetbaggers, and indulging all of the Reconstruction rage with none of the slaveholder's guilt. At the behest of his well-bred daddy, he swallows his bile and enrolls in Philadelphia dental school.

If fate had worked differently, Holliday might have died peacefully in his sleep following an uneventful life of Lost Cause molar-pulling. Instead, he contracts tuberculosis at age 21 and is given scant months to live. Much to the hagiographer's delight, the sudden bout with mortality breeds in him a lurking nihilism: Angry, fatalistic, and suddenly suspicious of free will, he heads West in search of drier climes and a new beginning. He spends the rest of The Fourth Horseman killing people, impeded by only a few minor plot developments and the occasional sentimental love interest.

The Fourth Horseman does contain swatches of good writing within its mostly workmanlike prose. Historical detail is generally well-attended, and Eickhoff possesses a good eye for the nuances of social stratification. But he is at times mawkish and over-apparent, and he too often indulges a taste for the melodramatic. And he can be maddeningly repetitive, revisiting both larger themes and smaller phrases until they have all the delicacy of a blunted hammer. (If I had to count the number of times "the rage" swelled within Doc, I'd go plum crazy.) In the end, Eickhoff's writing trudges more than it soars.

Beneath the banalities, however, lies a fascinating character, and Eickhoff knows it. At its heart is Holliday's "anarchy of spirit" - a spirit more concerned with the sweep of gesture than the bedrock of substance, a spirit for whom violence and honor are inextricably linked. (Ah, honor. Wherein a murderous megalomaniac can imagine himself a Don Quixote, as Eickhoff's overly literate Holliday does.)

To his credit, Eickhoff does a good job capturing the emptiness at the hole of the legend - no reader will leave The Fourth Horseman envious of Holliday's life, and a good number may walk away with a carefully shattered myth in their hands. But Eickhoff's trademark redundancy dulls even this salient point. Every new beginning turns out the same for our beleaguered Doc: a period of calm, a misguided love interest, a perceived slight to his hallowed honor, and then bloodshed. On to the next town, cowboy. Dallas, Denver, Cheyenne. Lather, rinse, repeat. It is likely that Holliday's life was just such a downward spiral, but The Fourth Horseman's murderous predictability takes away from any dramatic impact that spiral might have. Eickhoff glimpses this in the novel's final pages when he writes, without apparent irony, "dying is so... tedious." Is it ever.

I do not know if Eickhoff aspires to genre fiction or something grander, but even the most casual references to Philomela and George Eliot can't save The Fourth Horseman from its dimestore roots. Eickhoff suggests that Holliday is a metaphor for the West: Both had a short window in which to taste bloody abandon before the future came calling. Eickhoff finds the symbolic birth of Western gentility in the death of the outlaw Holliday. Whether or not he mourns that passing is another question. Holliday was a self-styled executioner who imagined honor where there was only psychopathic violence. That Eickhoff can fashion him a tragic hero... well, that's a Western for you. -Jay Hardwig

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle