High Fidelity meets Blue Highways in this gloriously offbeat quest for the true roots of Texas Swing.
This first nonfiction outing by the award-winning Scottish fiction writer McLean (Bucket of Tongues, 1994; Bunker Man, 1997) is sure to make some waves on this side of the Atlantic. McLean took the money he received for winning the Somerset Maugham Award and went to Turkey, Tex., of all places, to attend the annual Bob Wills Festival. Along the way, he also tried to trace the past that Wills, a pioneer of western swing, left scattered all across the Lone Star State. Laughingly chronicling his progress, McLean equals the best of American road literature. The principal source of his humor? The nearly constant problems Texans faced in deciphering McLean's Orkney-Scottish accent. A particularly fine moment in the saga: McLean's telephone conversation with an aged, nearly deaf swing musician who can only understand half of what the author is saying. McLean is also able to offer gentle yet pointed observations on American culture in general. His fascination with tabloids such as the Weekly World News (he claims to take it literally), his obsession with right-wing talk radio, and his enjoyment of such specifically Texan events as the annual Presidio Onion Festival display McLean's biting sense of humor, which distinguishes his book from the mere music survey or the everyday travelogue. But of course, music is still a subject here. McLean confesses himself to be left cold by Austinþ regarded by many in the music industry as the music city in Texas. Instead, he finds the smaller towns, where Bob Wills and his band members left their legacy, to be far more inspiring. If, like many another postmodern narrator, McLean often prefers anticlimax over climax in his writing, it'sbecause existentialism made him do it. A funny and charming lookþthrough Scottish eyesþat Texas as a microcosm of America.