A tale of boom and bust—but mostly bust—in the always-beckoning oil fields of Texas.
In this epic, comparatively modest in size but ambitious in scope, Lone Star State native and itinerant correspondent Mealer (Muck City: Winning and Losing in Football’s Forgotten Town, 2012, etc.) traces his family’s checkered history across generations, planting cotton, fighting wars, grieving for the fallen, and always looking for better things. “Only in Texas was there enough space for so many second acts,” he writes. Any reader of Larry McMurtry’s Thalia cycle of novels will know just what Mealer means, and in the largest sense, his story is pretty familiar ground: People get desperate in the absence of money and careless in the presence of it. The author takes his time setting a textured backdrop for his story: Oil came late to Texas, but when it arrived, it did so with more than a vengeance. Edna Ferber might have modeled Giant on some of Mealer’s characters, including a would-be baron whose sexual escapades got him thrown out of a country club, to which he replied, “I’ll build my own place.” The story eventually settles on Mealer’s father, who worked endlessly to make his own luck but almost always hit a bad streak when in the company of his best friend, a dashing, likable, yet unreliable fellow who was always on the make, selling one lease with one hand to buy another with the other, hiring staff without quite knowing what they could do, and buying planes and houses with money that wasn’t quite his. It was the Texas boom-and-bust tale all over again, punctuated with fistfuls of speed and long lines of cocaine; as Mealer writes, sagely, “it was hard to stay focused on Jesus when you were busy drilling for oil.” True enough: One minute Reagan is newly in office and you’re flush, the next he’s in trouble and you’re broke, and maybe you’ll see the ghost of Bob Wills on the way to the poorhouse—or the bank.
A big, eminently readable story, deftly spun even if with few surprises.