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Literary Classic Review    

 
 

The One-Eyed Man
by Larry L. King
Foreword by Fred Erisman
TCU Press, 2001
ISBN: 0-87565-236-0

 

 
 

Revisiting Larry L. King’s Texas political saga after 35 years is like finding an old friend from college days who has weathered well, enjoyed a good life, and has stories befitting an aged hero. There is something about King¹s prose that tingles in the mouth like an old wine: “We came swooshing across the fault line of the rock-dotted hills and burst out of the pine thickets into the falling flatlands without slowing down or looking back, like maybe something howling and hairy was gaining on us fast.”  From the get-go, the novelist gives his reader a solid description and allows a frightening aspect of the landscape to seep into the picture. It foreshadows tragedy without giving away story. It is reminiscent of the powerful beginning of Robert Penn Warren’s masterpiece, All the King’s Men, just as some of King¹s characters walk in a similar world.   

In fact, Texas Christian University professor Fred Erisman points out in his foreword some of the symbolic resemblances between The One-Eyed Man and Warren’s earlier work. To me, King¹s Governor Cullie Blanton is stronger than Warren’s Willie Stark. Whereas King says that Blanton is equal parts Huey Long, Herman Talmadge, and Alfalfa Bill Murray, Erisman writes, “Blanton, in his wheeling and dealing, his crudities and profanity, his ruthlessness and his compassion, is a dead-on portrait of LBJ in full cry.” Written from the point-of-view of former newsman Jim Clayton, The One-Eyed Man is a kind of grotesque Texas Picasso view of the political world wherein good and evil take on an entirely different modus operandi from that of our everyday world. 

Cullie Blanton is a tarnished, corrupted, and corrupting influence on the world which he believes he must, by necessity, control. He is governor.  His world is being threatened by two men who are running against him in his bid for reelection. Is he bigger, better, stronger, more demanding than they? Is he willing to shape himself into something he is not.  Such is the stage for classic conflict, and King does not fail in the task that he faced as a young first novelist in 1966. Like a whirlwind sweeping across a desert, Cullie Blanton takes on the opposing forces with enough energy but without the complete corruption and hard-nosed hypocrisy to use racism the way it is being used by his chief opponent, Bayonet Bill Wooster, a former Marine general who preaches anti-integration, anti-Communism, and waves the Bible to the tune of “Dixie.” When the gauntlet is thrown into the dust, as George Wallace tossed it in his infamous “Segregation forever!” inauguration address of 1964, Governor Cullie Blanton ultimately lacks the willfulness to mold himself into something he is not: a totally hypocritical demagogue. This decision, however, does not come easily. Blanton mulls over it like a sinner pondering biblical text. He is a character not without sin.

Finally, the ultimate tragedy of this spectacular story is the rock-hard truth when Cullie Blanton, the politician and the man, faces, like a matador stepping into the ring to fight the bull, the climatic moment of truth. He is slammed against the wall of that truth when the time for an ultimate decision is on him.

Larry L. King wrote a tremendous novel of gigantic proportions, cloaked in the mantle of a political saga, and it resonates today through the passage of time with perhaps even more verve than it did when I first read it so many years ago. It is well worth the time to read again, to visit anew, and feel the strength of a fine novelist¹s mighty touch.

Wayne Greenhaw
Southern Scribe Reviews
 

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