Thursday, September 12, 2013

Good Night Texas: A Review

William Cobb's Goodnight Texas is an apocalyptic novel of slow economic collapse set within a small Texan seaside fishing community named Good Night.  The primary driver of the economic collapse is global warming.

William Cobb was raised in Texas. Now a resident of Pennsylvania, he teaches at the writing program of Penn State and in Colorado.  He has published fiction in the New Yorker and has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Dobie-Paisano Fellowship, and won the Sandstone Prize. He has published a book of short stories, a book of poems, and two other novels.  His more recent novel, Bird Saviors, also has apocalyptic overtones.

The novel is a sequential series of character studies set within the background of a slow collapse in a small seashore town.  There is a realistic mix of good, bad and in-between folks.  When bad weather (a big hurricane) rolls in, it shakes things loose, but life still most follow a certain trajectory.  Unlike many catastrophic/apocalyptic novels, there is no grand re-write of peoples lives.  They simply have to pick up the pieces where they were.

The story begins with Gabriel, an often not very nice, handsome Hispanic fisherman losing his job on a boat, when the owner pulls the plug on the failing enterprise.  We get to see a rather funny series of events as Gabriel works his way, with predictable results, into getting a job as a school bus driver, and driving instructor.  Being only a little older than some of the young ladies he is transporting, it isn't going to turn out well.

The second major thread is at the motel, seaside restaurant run by a Russian émigré, and the staff that works for him.  They will turn out to be the group that sticks together.  Their story gets started when someone finds a giant angel fish, with a baby horse stuck in its throat, washed up on shore.  The fish is stuffed and put up over the restaurant to attract tourists: thus the book cover.

Although I have seen some complaints that the novel is more of an interesting character study, with little plot line, that strikes me as being a bit obtuse.  The general theme goes something like this.  When the world slowly starts collapsing, the people who will make their way through it are the ones who hang (however tenuously) together and care for each other.

There is a fair amount of symbolism going on at the secondary level.  The fish is clearly the Leviathan.  The Leviathan is the ancient sea serpent that will rise from the depths, and destroy the world at the end of times.   Gabriel is the angel (Greek for messenger) who signals great changes to come.  At the end of the novel, the stuffed fish has its horse-in-mouth, replaced by the owner with an angel.  An obvious sign that the forces of darkness can be survived.  Throw in a young lady name "Uno" (aka Eve) and it completes the symbolic recovery.
I did like the book.  It is not particularly fast paces, and there is not tons of action, but there is still a lot of tension within the different characters storylines.  You very much want to know how it all turns out for people, and not everyone makes it through the dramatic events.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high.  Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting.  Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation.  Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

Realism: The book is set within a modern context, and other then the unusual fish washing ashore (and who's to say about that?) the events are pretty much what would be expected.  It is a seven.

Readability: The book is not a page turner, but there is still enough tension to keep things moving along.  As I noted above, there is some symbolism, and the symbolism, if missed, will make the story seem to make a little less sense.  It is a literary 5.

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