cover image Haley Texas 1959

Haley Texas 1959

Donley Watt, Author Cinco Puntos Press $21.95 (180p) ISBN 978-0-938317-48-7

The two atmospherically rich novellas combined here have the feel of literary time capsules. As Watt explains in a prefatory note, they draw on his experiences growing up in East Texas. Both explore the kind of watershed experiences that change perceptions of the past while shaping the protagonists' futures; the narratives, he says, are ""faithful to the emotional ground of my remembered truth."" In ""Seven Days Working,"" set in 1954, 14-year-old Donnie is given a seemingly impossible task: his father orders him to clear out 70 acres of mesquite trees in just one week. Armed with little more than an ax and a lot of peanut butter, the boy obediently spends long days in the pasture, methodically chopping and thinking back on his life so far. The mix of love, hatred and pride inherent to farming is neatly depicted, and Donnie's stamina is mirrored in the quiet strength of the prose. In the title novella, Watt attacks the weightier theme of racial prejudice. Tired of being branded ""the preacher's boy,"" 12-year-old Damon Wilson goes on a ""nigger knockin'"" joyride with three older friends, and watches helplessly--and mutely--as events take a murderous turn. In the nightmarish aftermath, he must decide whether to tell the truth about his redneck companions' actions, or to lie and avoid becoming a social outcast. The consequences of Damon's moral dilemma weigh heavily on his preacher father's conflicted existence and failing career. Watt resists facile conclusions, and the justice meted out at the end is both surprising and redemptive. The author's clear-eyed vision of his native state makes this slim volume a satisfying followup to his short story collection, Can You Get Here from There?, and novel, The Journey of Hector Rabinal. (Nov.)