Expatriate Act

While some Texas-born writers, like Katherine Anne Porter, had to leave home to do their best work, for John Graves the reverse was true. But his new memoir, filled with prosaic diary entries from a long- ago sojourn abroad, won't enhance his legacy.

OF ALL CONTEMPORARY TEXAS WRITERS, no one shines brighter in the pantheon of Lone Star lit than John Graves. Why this should be so is less a matter of critical exegesis than one of conviction, of belief. The reputation, the legend, the legacy, all derive from one book, Goodbye to a River, published in 1960 and continuously in print ever since. The work arrived at a propitious moment in Texas letters; the old guard of Dobie, Webb, and Bedichek was about to fade from the scene, and Graves’s narrative about a canoe trip down a stretch of the Brazos River seemed to mark both the summation and the end of something: the land-centered ethic of Old Texas. In this one book, Graves combined Webb’s interest in history, Bedichek’s in nature, and Dobie’s in folklore into a seamless whole that was greater, and more literary, than any single work by any one of the celebrated triumvirate.

Readers responded to Goodbye to a River on several levels. They liked its elegiac tone. They liked the avuncular wisdom that Graves sought to impart. They liked the book’s muted ecological thrust (Graves is no bomb-thrower, no Edward Abbey). Graves’s ruminative manner conveyed a sense

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