William Brammer Garrett Epps - Essay

Garrett Epps

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Billy Lee Brammer's The Gay Place] has a special quality that almost transcends questions of literary merit—a richness, a completeness in rendering an entire small world, a satisfying structure of myth and symbol. It is, quite simply, a magical book. (p. 1)

In the novel, Brammer transforms his former boss and mentor [Lyndon B. Johnson] into a moderate governor of decent instincts who is also a symbol of courage and a crazed kind of integrity in a landscape of entropic weariness.

The book's other characters are bewildered, ineffectual provincial liberals, bright young people pursuing an impossible ideal of ease and grace set forth in an epigraph from Ford Madox Ford: "Is there then any terrestrial paradise where, amidst the whispering of the olive leaves, people can be with whom they like and have what they like and take their ease in shadows and coolness?"

The vision of an earthly paradise, Brammer seems to be saying, is an illusion; it has led his cast of "hipster pols" into lives of sexual and alcoholic abandon, the paralysis of thinking without acting…. (pp. 1, 4)

Fenstemaker does not rely on the dubious guide of the intellect, but on instinct and larger-than-life sense of purpose, as he sets about his work of "power an' change an' improvement." Like Willie Stark in All the King's Men, Fenstemaker possesses supernatural powers and insight; he is by turns the...

(The entire section is 501 words.)