My rating: 3 of 5 stars
All the elements and then some of the Texas Family Saga novel are here -- except for the oil. But there is the land, cotton, cattle,horse racing, adultery, lots of drinking, taciturn men with passive wives, a couple of rubes for comic relief, and parricide. Maybe two parricides, depending on how you count.
There is enough material here to fill a 600 page novel about Czech immigrants in Central Texas at the turn of the century, but Machart's approach is elliptical, roving across the years 1895, 1910, and 1924, choosing key incidents that will tell his story, even if at times it seems to leave certain of his characters cyphers. Then again, maybe we don't need to know more than that the Sklava boys strain under the control of their wealthy Mexican father-in-law. Perhaps that's what you get when you win your wives by losing a horse race. And then there are the Knedlik twins, one with a crazy mean streak that today would be called psychotic. I liked the little I learned about Elizka Novotny, who spent three years at the University of Texas, Austin, during World War I, but has returned to run her father's store. She will never be happy in this one-horse town.
Machart passes quickly through a quarter century of events, but his real strength is when he stops to describe incidents in what is probably more detail than some readers will want. The novel opens with the bloody birth of Karel, the youngest of the Slaka brothers who will always be known as the baby that killed their mother. As a grown man, Karel has to tie up a dead cow and her only partially delivered dead calf and haul them from the corral to the pasture. A moment like this is awkward in the novel only because it hints at being a "symbol" of something, but it is brilliant as a description of just one of those things you have to do on a ranch.
This is Machart's first novel and it has been popular with readers and critics. It could be argued that what Texas writing needs right now are more adventuresome writers who will toss out traditional forms and push Texas literature in some new direction. But meanwhile, there is no denying the pleasures of the traditional Texas myths well told.
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About Bruce Machart