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Why Are We in Texas?

Texas Celebrity Turkey Trot By Peter Gent William Morrow, $9.95, 239 pp.

By Joseph Dalton

There is not much to say, it would seem, for a state whose main contributions to the national culture are seamy politicians, country music, Astroturf, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Dallas Cowgirls--who are of course, the Dallas Cowboys' female cheerleaders, and the first wave of jiggle video to hit the screens of Omaha. And oil and gas. Still, not much reason for Texans to strut quite so much, or talk quite so loud. But residents of Texas, that bizarre man-child of a nation-state on the Gulf, are notorious bitter-enders--examples of mindless Thermopylae-like heroism stud their history like the turquoise on Waylon Jennings' finger. Witness LBJ and the Alamo. Witness the protagonist of Peter Gent's novel, the washed-up cornerback Mabry Jenkins. Witness one of Gent's Texas morons, backed by oil money and an inordinate belief in the destiny of Texas, saying, "We could join OPEC and if them Yankee peckerheads don't like it, let them freeze in the dark. Texasisthe frontier and the frontier is for the strong individual. He stands or falls on his own."

Well all right, as Buddy Holly might have said, Charge! Remember the Astrodome!

Stand on their own? The oil depletion allowance? Enormous public subsidies for the arenas their gladiators fight in? Soon-to-be deregulated natural gas? The Warren Commission? That's what I call standing on your own in a heroic way. Let's nuke it back to the Stone Age and start again.

IDIGRESS: the novel. Peter Gent, a former Dallas Cowboys flankerback in the days of Don Meredith, is also the author of the steaming, apocalyptic, and very good North Dallas Forty, the best novel ever written about pro football, not as limited a field as you might imagine. Texas celebrity Turkey Trot, which was excerpted last small in Sports Illustrated, and will be called by many another pro football novel, is not quite as good, I am sad to report. Readers of the sports pages will want to pick out who its characters are based on. Since Gent's autobiographical hero has move from offense to defense, is cornerback Ezra Lytle--a cuckold who gets his kicks with 11-years-olds--modeled at least in part on the Cowboy star of yore, Lance Rentzel? And who really is L.D. Groover, the 270-lb. defensive tackle and disciple of Wilhelm Reich who jerks off in a rabbit-fur-lined Coldspot? No matter.

No matter because although the action is provided by football, this is much more a novel of Texas society, it its own way as interesting as Blood and Money. Thompson's exploration of murder among Houston's very rich. Gent excels at capturing vignettes of that life--the celebrity fishing tournament, a Dallas businessman winking over hiscoke spoon the while his Mercedes is stopped at a traffic light. And Gent tries mightily to give the book some vision, tying his Neiman-Marcus set into a cocaine smuggling ring of heroic proportions, furnishing it with an ex-astronaut lackey who becomes the unwitting victim of his employer's pesticide, and so on.

BUT GENT'S going over ground trod much more surely, if not as entertainingly, by Don DeLillo in End Zone, and in the end his version of po' boys at play in the fields (and beds) of the energy lords rings more than a tiny bit hollow. The cornerback, Jenkins, realizes the decrepitude of the crew he runs with, but he wants to run a little longer; he never comes to the realization the protagonist of North Dallas Forty did, namely, that there comes a time to put away childish things Mabry Jenkins is alienated from his work place, but nailing wide receivers is the only thing he knows. Or, it seems, cares to learn.

But it's rather a fun book. In the meantime Gent has learned to write, and his ear for redneck, dialogue is acute. Samples "I'll rip off your head and shit in your neck...", "Do you eat with niggers?

Only when I can't get chopsticks," and so on. Mabry Jenkins' open-eyed adventures among the Philistines are at times tedious at times banal, at times almost hilarious but this book has limited appeal--you might read it because you read North Dallas Forty, in which case you won't like it as well as you like the previous book. Or you might read it because you read the sports pages and rooted for the Wehrmacht in the latest Super Bowl, in which case you won't like it all. Or you might read it because it is one of the few recent novels that deal with a peculiar and troubling section of America, and then if you don't still believe Oswald was the Lone Gunman, you'll be peculiarly troubled by it.

BECAUSE AS THE divisions firm up, we reanze that one of the few bonds remaining in contemporary American culture is Sport, more precisely. Televised Sport. Don't believe me? Check the ratings on Super Bowl XII--it was the most-watched television extravaganza of all time. Then see where the New Yorker subscribers are. Then check out how many records the Sex Pistols sold. And remember they only print a million copies of The New York Times every day. What do I think? I think that you might be interested in reading a novel by a talented and growing writer with an ear for the way people really speak, and I think we should get Texas before Texas gets the Bomb.

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