Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chicago Tribune :: Trillin on Texas

Trillin on Texas
by Calvin Trillin

By Christopher Borrelli, Tribune Newspapers

The way to approach Texas is from space — you see the United States, the land mass south of everything looms up at the bottom of the country, Oklahoma rushes past, the sky gets dusty, boom, you're in a used-car lot outside Dallas, humid. Texas is so daunting, I always think of Texas as a used-car lot and always imagine it from space. Which, you gather from "Trillin on Texas" (University of Texas Press, $22), is how Calvin Trillin, the longtime New Yorker writer, sees Texas — as a vast tan pancake only understood by homing close, pulling back, then diving back, then leaving. If you have never been to Texas, "Trillin on Texas" will not give you directions to Houston or point you to a Mexican breakfast. But it will, as only an outsider can do, reveal its character.

"On weekends, Robert Donnell likes to take the country roads," Trillin writes in "Knowing Johnny Jenkins," a New Yorker piece from 1989. "When he travels between Beaumont and Austin, where his children live with his ex-wife, he often finds himself on Farm-to-Market 969, which cuts through rich pastureland along the Colorado River east of Austin." The story, one of Trillin's best, and a showstopper in a compilation of shrewdly picked tales, meanders like that a bit, touching on the Colorado, the Humpback Bridge, a boat ramp — it's as pleasantly rambling as a Texas drive, only to stop short at an abandoned Mercedes and a book dealer found nearby, shot in the head, a twist as unexpected as any in this large, complicated place.

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