cover image Border Music

Border Music

James Waller, Robert James Waller. Warner Books Inc, $28 (260pp) ISBN 978-0-446-51858-1

The lead sentence of Waller's potential bestseller is a first line that may turn up in quizzes, though not of the literary variety. ``When this nameless piece a' shit tore off Linda Lobo's G-string instead of sticking money in it... Texas Jack Carmine went crazy-over-the-edge....'' But make no mistake about it: while Texas Jack Carmine is neither as well-educated nor as well-spoken as Robert Kincaid or Michael Tillman, the protagonists of Waller's previous novels, he is equally intelligent, sensitive and romantic under the facade of his raunchy, beer-guzzling persona. With a twang in his voice matched by the low-down grit of Waller's prose, Jack is a restless man who lives ``sweet and free... a rider of summer roads, traveler of far places.'' After he impulsively rescues long-legged, ``high-assed'' Linda from her job in a Minnesota bar, he discovers that she is the woman of his dreams. Jack takes Linda home to his one-horse ranch in Texas where they enjoy an idyllic year, doomed to end, however, as readers realize immediately, since Waller applies foreshadowing with a sledgehammer touch. Jack's ``spells,'' flashbacks to the killing he did in Vietnam, are the reason that the lovers eventually part. But Jack assumes legendary proportions in the lives of everyone whose path he crosses; all eventually realize that ""`he set us free... he loved us in a special way and in doin' so taught us to think better of ourselves.'' A silly subplot concerns Jack's disillusioned uncle Vaughn Rhomer, a produce manager in a Iowa supermarket, who secretly nurtures his own romantic dreams and adventures, and finally realizes that Jack has ``shown him the way.'' Waller is dangerously self-indulgent here; his style has become a shtick, and this story is all atmosphere and rugged sentiment and no action. His fans will probably buy it, but there's no magic in this tale. Major ad/promo; Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club main selection. (Feb.)