BABY HOUSTON by June Arnold


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From the late feminist writer Arnold (Apple Sauce, Sister Gin, The Cook and the Carpenter), a spirited tale of an indomitable Texas widow. When 40-year-old Eudora Houston's husband dies in Memphis, she has no choice but to move back to her native city--Houston, of course--with her two young daughters, Mary Cowan and Halite. There, she struggles to wrest some of the family money from her tightwad older brother, Oscar (as Baby Sister, Eudora has a hard time throwing her weight around) and fight her way back into Houston society. Arnold perfectly captures the boom-town feel of Houston in the 1940's and 50's, and Baby Houston herself is the town personified--grabbing for real estate, getting richer, tougher, and wiser. The main focus of the novel, however, centers on the stormy relationship between Baby and Halite, a mother-and-daughter battle that can stand comparison to that of Aurora and Emma Greenway's in Terms of Endearment. Halite shoots her own husband during a stormy divorce, exchanges barbs with Baby's second husband, hapless Hyke (who seems crushed between the two women, and finally dies young of hepatitis), and eventually writes a successful novel that vilifies the family. Yet Halite and Baby live for their reconciliations, and there is even a hint of incest--""I am kissing my daughter like a lover""--that Arnold unfortunately fails to explore or amplify. Still, by the time Baby Houston finally dies of cancer in the 70's, one feels as if one has come to know a real person--warts, grand opera and all. At times unnecessarily dense and circuitous, this is, in all, a keen-eyed and loving portrait both of a woman and a city.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1987
Publisher: Texas Monthly