cover image Jack Ruby and the Origins of the Avant-Garde in Dallas: And Other Stories

Jack Ruby and the Origins of the Avant-Garde in Dallas: And Other Stories

Robert Trammell. Deep Vellum, $16.95 trade paper (308p) ISBN 978-1-64605-049-9

The title novella in this piquant double-decker volume from Trammel, who died in 2006 and was primarily a poet (Queen City of the Plains), transforms Jack Ruby from a murky footnote figure into a bold mover and shaker. The other 22 stories, originally collected under the title The Quiet Man, feature other larger-than-life citizens of Dallas. Trammell gives his characters vivid, evocative names like Oak Cliff Benny (a barfly who shows up in "D.J.'s Trial," "Waiting," and other stories) and Jimmy Ace (the heavy-drinking salesman in "Boredom" and "Unintended"). Even the historical figures who show up are imbued with the texture of fiction, like Mr. Thomas Y. Pickett, whose 1930 replica of George Washington's Mount Vernon figures into "Benjamin Murchison Hunt Smith." The stories are lively and colorful, but taken together, they can feel repetitive. The novella, told in short chapters full of rumors, factoids, and stark black-and-white photos, is the crown jewel, and it's made convincing by its audacity ("Jack Ruby was like Dallas's Andy Warhol before Andy Warhol was Andy Warhol," Trammell writes). Here, Jack is a major supporter of local culture and something of a reprobate, with an equal interest in art and exotic dancers. Trammell's riffs on Ruby and the less glamorous corners of Dallas coalesce into a winning portrait. (Dec.)