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