William Brammer Caroline Tunstall - Essay

Caroline Tunstall

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"The Gay Place" is made up of three short novels unified by setting and theme. They present the political scene in a Southwestern state that is a reasonable facsimile of Texas; one is not surprised to learn that William Brammer was for some time on the staff of Lyndon Johnson. The three protagonists of these tales are very similar, all members of the not-so-young generation, veterans of World War II, liberal politicians sardonically aware that their liberalism has been compromised by their politics. They use the current intellectual catchwords only half mockingly, distrust themselves more than their foes, and conduct their affairs—of all sorts—to the unceasing sound of record player, jukebox or radio. They owe their drinking to Hemingway, their glitter to Fitzgerald and their sweetness to Salinger. This is not for a moment to deny that they represent very actual types. And for all their likeness, they are sharply differentiated.

"The Flea Circus," first and fullest of the three stories, covers a few days in the life of Roy Sherwood.

"Room Enough to Caper" presents the … case of Neil Christiansen…. [And] the final story, "Country Pleasures," [features] Jay McGown….

The three stories are in fact three anecdotes in the life of the same man, the governor, Arthur Fenstemaker…. He is a devoted husband and brother, a ruthless schemer, a charming rake. He is also the liberal leader who has inspired a generation of younger men. Altogether a successful creation, Fenstemaker is, one suspects, very dear to his author. But after creating his hero, his man of action, Brammer refuses to call him to account. The question of responsibility hangs over the book, today's familiar mushroom cloud in an empty sky.

Caroline Tunstall, "Award-Winning First Novel," in Lively Arts and Book Review, March 12, 1961, p. 34.