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An Afternoon Spent With Amarillo

Camille Corot
Metropolitan Museum of Art

I’m Jane Holwerda, from Dodge City, Kansas.  

Over the weekend, I picked up author Bill Durham’s Amarillo and fell in.

Probably, because you’re listening right now, you’ve had a similar experience: You think to spend, say, an hour or so of reading, a respite from mundane weekend chores and social obligations.

Then, several hours later, you close your eyes to consider the world of the novel wherein you’ve dwelt, all afternoon, and what you think is: Wow! Where have I been?

In this particular case, I was in Amarillo, Texas – it’s all there, tumultuous wind, tumbleweeds, sunsets; the 72oz steak-eating challenge, horses, Palo Duro, a derelict drive-in. This Amarillo is a place of eccentrics: a steely-eyed pool-hall owner with a heart of gold and a wolf-dog bouncer of badly behaved drunk and disorderlies. The swaggering bravado of a philandering cowboy. His bruised and broken sad-eyed wife. A mustached and kindly sheriff in a Stetson.

The moxie of a stray-cat-adopting public defender recently arrived from New York City. Another high school football star on a downward slide. His stoically loyal wife. Another prodigal son too late returned to ask and be granted forgiveness.  Eccentric yet stock characters sashaying through a tall west Texas tale knit with family dysfunction, betrayal, passion, and murder. And yet, it works.

It works, because by novel’s end these characters present with a humanity as encompassing as the High Plains sky. Their humanity is earned through their struggles, of course, struggles against disappointment, personal histories and bad choices, struggles with each other—for love and acceptance, for meaning and purpose. 

And it tells a heck of a story, too, a story, overall, of redeeming grace.  It’s a story about a place where even the best neighbors too often turn a blind eye. It’s a story to remind us that we are all much greater than first impressions suggest. It’s a story to nudge us to search out the gray patches in what may seem the most black and white of situations because, as the story goes, even in the reddest of places deep blue rivers run.

I think it’s that, ultimately, that kept me enthralled in a novel about Amarillo over the weekend -- it’s the deep understanding and, yeah, love, for the complex culture of the west Texas where author Bill Durham grew up and grew away from. It’s not a simple matter. And It’s a very good read.

Bill Durham’s world, Amarillo, is…well. Have you ever stopped over in a place, maybe on your way to somewhere else, but, due to circumstances and definitely against your better judgment you ended up staying? And the longer you stayed, the more it somehow grabbed a hold of you and kept holding on? When once you turned the last page or nodded at that place disappearing from your rearview mirror, you had absolutely no regrets about the portion of your life you spent there. Whether a book or a place, all you really want is to share the experience with everybody. And, so, here you have it: Bill Durham’s Amarillo.

Hey, but don’t take my word for it -- check out author Bill Durham’s and Amarillo attorney Joe Lovell’s book bytes on HPPR’s website and on Facebook our Radio Readers group page.

As for me?  I’d like a sequel, please, Mr. Durham. Please give us more.