It was inevitable. Ann Weisgarber had to write a Texas novel. She lives near Houston where oil booms and busts, where rattlesnakes, coyotes, droughts, and hurricanes are part of the cultural lore. Inspired by her own hurricane experiences, The Promise is Weisgarber’s Texas novel about the Galveston hurricane of 1900, the deadliest natural disaster in the United States. Here, she shares with Bookish some of her favorite Texas novels that truly capture the danger, beauty, and resilience that comes with living in the Lone Star state.
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read this novel. In 1863, freed slaves Mary and Britt Johnson leave Kentucky with their family and settle in Texas where Mary is captured by Comanches. It’s a deeply moving story, and I couldn’t put it down. A scene conducted in sign language between Native Americans and Britt Johnson especially had me spinning. The tension was palpable and so beautifully written that I e-mailed the author to express my admiration.
Nothing says Texas quite like a cattle drive that begins on the Texas/Mexico border and heads north to Montana. Led by former Texas Rangers, the cowboys face perils at every turn but don’t think for a minute this is a stereotypical western. Larry McMurtry’s characters’ are complex and the dialogue snaps. I’ve read it so many times the spine fell off the cover of my copy.
Published in 1992, Cormac McCarthy’s style was considered experimental since he didn’t use quotation marks to set off dialogue. When I first read this novel, it took me a few pages to get use to the style but once I did, I was hooked on 16-year-old John Grady Cole’s story. Forced to leave his family’s South Texas ranch after World War II, Cole covers ground in Texas and Mexico. It’s gritty, sparse, spotted with humor, and oh so heartbreaking.
Lest you think I read only historical fiction, this is a contemporary novel set in Dallas. On the first read, it’s a war story since the narrator is a soldier in the Iraqi War. It’s also a novel about Texans’ obsession with football and the money machine that makes professional football run. This is one of those novels where one minute I was laughing and the next I was crying. That’s what I call good storytelling.
I, Too, Have Suffered in the Garden
Set in 2005, this novel about two gay men shows Austin at its best and its worst. In this novel, tech companies hum, there’s pressure to climb the corporate ladder, parties are lavish, artists try to make names for themselves, and gay men hide aspects of their lifestyles from their bosses and families. The writing shines, the characters are complicated, and relationships are tangled. Who can resist that? Not me.
I can’t leave this out even though it’s nonfiction. Based on a true murder, Blood and Money reflects Houston during the 1960’s and ‘70’s when oil money gushed and anything went. That is, until a wealthy oilman’s daughter was killed and the suspect was her physician husband. The trial and ensuring murders—yes, that’s right, key witnesses are murdered—held Houston spellbound for years and so did this book. It reads like a novel and is true crime at its best.
Ann Weisgarber is the author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel DuPree that was nominated for England’s 2009 Orange Prize and for the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers. In the United States, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree won the Stephen Turner Award for New Fiction and the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction. It was shortlisted for the Ohioana Book Award for Fiction and was a Barnes and Noble Discover New Writer.