This is a collection of three novellas first published in 1961 by a former aide to Lyndon Baines Johnson long before he was president. He was never the governor of Texas, but a senator and house representative before he was vice-president. This book to me feels like an inverse to All the King’s Men, where a political figure (framed off of Huey Long) is a center to riff on Souther identity and history more than the politics of the day. Here, I think there’s a lot more of a political set of goals happening amid the three novellas.
There’s a large imposing presence in the center of this novel as well, that of the governor of Texas. But the three novellas frame this figure in different ways by focusing on a different protagonist, who has their own relationship with and to the governor.
The Flea Circus –
In the first novella, we have a young state representative who doesn’t really care too much about his job. He’s being positioned to help the governor pass a series of legislation, but his mind is on different things. For one, he’s the figurehead of a large political family. He’s an heir-apparent to some degree, but for his family, one’s as good as another, and if he’s not willing to play ball with what his family wants, they’re more than happy to replace him with one of his brothers.
Another thing distracting him is that he’s begun sleeping with one of his colleague’s wives. Frustrating about all this is that he actually seems to be falling in love with her and she with him, and this presents some obvious difficulties because they might need to do something about that. This relationship presents several difficulties, as does the idea in his mind that he doesn’t care about the consequences. I think about some of those famous political figures he seemingly chose to get caught in scandal (and the scandals themselves were pretty mild) Mark Sanford and Gary Hart.
The last thing that is pre-occupying him is that he’s pretty sure that his colleague took a bribe. This is frustrating because he’s still trying to figure out what his actual, if any, ideology is, and he’s pretty sure it’s not corruption, and now he has to deal with that.
Room Enough to Caper –
The second novella in this book involves a recently appointed senator mulling a run in the general election. Our protagonist was appointed by the central governor figure after the previous senator died in office. It becomes clear that this appointment was a way to at worst, put a placeholder in, try out the waters, and see what happens, or at best back a future winner. The issue is that our senator is a little world-weary. He’s in a marriage that is probably dying with a bohemian artist who doesn’t seem to care whether or not they stay married. It’s still oddly amicable though. As a consequence, both are pursuing or thinking about pursuing other options. Also, he doesn’t really know if he’s much of a senator or what a senator does. Regardless, he’s facing a primary opponent who seems bent on destroying him. The other reason he’s been supported by the governor is that this primary opponent, a longtime state senator, once ran against the governor, and well, he’s the type to hold grudges. Regardless, he has a week to decide if he even wants to run. He’s given a speech by his friend which questions not what the government is spending money on, but what reasons the government gives to justify it. He says something like, let’s not obscure our good intentions in ideology when we have them. This speech also involves the primary opponent launching a full broadside against by accusing him, his wife, and his brother of associating with communists. The fiery speech and his passionate defense of himself causes him to finally take the race seriously. He just has to figure why the opponent knew these things about him.
Part three to come –
The final novella follows the governor’s closest aide Jim. Jim is married to a well-known actress, but now they are estranged and in a pre-divorce kind of place. Jim is following the governor and they will be crossing paths with his actress wife on set near the Mexican border. While there, she attempts to reconcile their marriage, which makes things awkward as Jim’s girlfriend is there.
This is a novella about fatalisms, specifically which fatalisms feel the most real. Sometimes life feels like a big sunk-cost fallacy. I don’t mean the being alive part (but you know, sometimes), but the different paths and choices you make, and how trapped you can feel by your own choices, and how those choice almost always feel irrevocable, and sometimes are. This is the most…impressionistic of the three, and the least plot driven.