Malcolm Jones

Stories by Malcolm Jones

  • The Poet Lariat

    LARRY MCMURTRY CASTS A COLD eye on the runty mesquite and the oil rigs that pock the plains around his hometown of Archer City, Texas (population: 1,918). But then his big Lincoln crests a ridge, the scrub gives way to beautiful rolling country, and McMurtry smiles. ""This is the prairie the way the buffalo would have seen it,'' he says. ""This is the way it looked when my father was born in 1900.'' Jeff McMurtry was one of the last men to make a living purely out of ranching. The younger McMurtry worked for his father as a cowhand until he was 22, but ""I never aspired to be a rancher,'' he says. ""I never really liked it. I knew, and my father knew, that it wasn't going to last another generation. He just barely survived doing the work he wanted.''Herding words instead of cattle, the 62-year-old McMurtry has become Archer City's most famous son. The writer's 22 novels have made him famous, garnering critical acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize for the phenomenally best-selling ""Lonesome...
  • A Feast Of Literary Delights

    ON THE EVENING OF NOV. 28, 1966, A rainy Monday, an extraordinary event took place at the Plaza Hotel in New York City: a writer threw a party, a masked ball, in honor of Katharine Graham, owner of The Washington Post and this magazine. More than 500 of the nation's most powerful and famous citizens, from tycoons to movie stars to literary lions, were invited. And most of them showed up, making it the first time in history, and probably forever, that the rich and famous did the bidding of a writer. Of course, the writer was Truman Capote. He was then the best-known author in the country, having published ""In Cold Blood'' earlier in the year. He was also the favorite court jester of high society both here and in Europe. Capote knew everybody, from the Kennedys to members of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and he invited them all to his Black and White Ball.Capote's guest list supplies a sharp snapshot of the way things were--and how much the times have changed. Not one person...
  • Spruced Up Evergreens

    FLANNERY O'CONNOR ONCE said that when she went to college, nobody mentioned any good Southern writers. ""As far as I knew, the heroes of Hawthorne and Melville and James and Crane and Hemingway were balanced on the Southern side by Brer Rabbit--an animal who can always hold up his end of the stick, in equal company, but here too much was being expected of him.'' Oh, yeah? O'Connor wasn't wrong about much, but she may have sold old Brer Rabbit short. Of course, she did not have the benefit of reading Virginia Hamilton's wonderful retelling of his exploits in A Ring of Tricksters (Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $19.95), her new collection of the tales slaves brought to the West Indies and the Americas. Add Barry Moser's lively illustrations, and the choice between Hawthorne and Brer Rabbit comes down to a coin toss. There is no crying need for yet another retelling of ""Brer Rabbit'' or any of these tales. But when the telling is as expert as Hamilton's, who can resist? ...
  • It's Not Just Bad, It's Sorta Great

    IT IS SHAMEFULLY EASY TO criticize author Richard Preston's skills as a novelist. The plot of The Cobra Event (404 pages. Random House. $25.95) is less a story than a collection of clichEs strung together: a plucky female doctor leads everyone from the FBI to the fire department on a chase to corner a mad scientist who is threatening New York City with a bomb. Preston's idea of characterization is to describe what everyone is wearing: the two most interesting characters are the one with the pocket pal for pens and the one wearing L.L. Bean loafers. And his prose, pedestrian at best, can be memorably awful: ""The Manhattan morgue emitted an endless Gregorian chant of smell.'' So why did I stay up until 2 a.m. finishing this book, scared out of my wits all the way?Probably because Preston has inadvertently created a new hybrid of fact and fiction. Author of the nonfiction best seller ""The Hot Zone,'' he tosses lots of factual--and utterly terrifying--information on biological warfare...
  • An Epic Writer, An Epic Life

    THE FANS OF James Michener should be grateful that he was a bad Quaker. Had Michener, who died of kidney failure last Thursday in his Austin, Texas, home, stuck by the pacifist precepts by which he was raised, he would not have enlisted in the navy after Pearl Harbor. He would not have shipped out to the Solomon Islands, where he collected the material for his first book, ""Tales of the South Pacific.'' There would have been no Pulitzer Prize, and no Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. But Michener did enlist, his book became ""South Pacific'' and he became the author of huge--and hugely popular--novels about states and countries, even outer space.""Hawaii,'' Michener's first blockbuster best seller, appeared in 1959. Marrying fact with fiction to recount the history of the islands from the first volcanic burp through the arrival of everyone from the Polynesians to the pineapple barons, it was snapped up by the Book of the Month Club, condensed by Reader's Digest and sold to Hollywood...
  • The Death Of A Native Son

    MICHAEL DORRIS AND LOUISE Erdrich were the poster couple of multicultural literature--the best-paid, best-selling, best-reviewed Native American authors of the '80s and '90s. Their books won awards and got sold to Hollywood. She was quiet and beautiful, he was handsome and effusive, and together they charmed just about everyone they met. Even when the marriage went sour in the last few years, their friends couldn't help observing that it seemed to sour with style. How many men, after all, would dedicate a book to an estranged partner, "For Louise who found the song and gave me voice"? ...
  • Book Marks

    A SLENDER THREAD, by Diane Ackerman (Random House. $24). Diane Ackerman is a sort of hippie naturalist, and this is her latest excuse to chase butterflies. The book is ostensibly about Ackerman's work manning a crisis hot line. Still, you've got to wonder what suicidal callers would make of her fuzzy, planet-hugging effusions, reports on the revivifying effects of bicycling and endless chatter about the squirrels in her backyard. (Circle of life: yeah, we know.) Ackerman declines to discuss her own emotional resume, but does say airily, "I was born with a poet's sensibility, and Prozac made it impossible for me to do what comes naturally--think metaphorically, allusively, exploring the hidden connection between seemingly unrelated things." As a hot-line staffer, Ackerman has "empathy to the nth" and knows how to listen. But as a writer she sure loves the sound of her own voice. ...
  • Tracking Mommy

    ON SUNDAY, JUNE 22, 1958, JEAN ELL-roy, 43, was found choked to death on a side street in E1 Monte, a scuzzy southern California town. A divorced nurse, she had lived in El Monte with her only child, James. But when the 10-year-old boy got home Sunday night after a weekend with his father and learned his mother was dead, he was stoic. He didn't care that no one could find the killer. He was too busy looking forward to life with his good-for-nothing dad. "The boo-hoo stuff was behind me," Elloy recalls. "I spilled some tears on the bus--and that was that. My period of mourning ]asted half an hour." Or so he thought. ...
  • Shooting The West

    UPON RETURNING from a two-year pilgrimage to the California desert in the late '30s, the photographer Edward Weston exclaimed, "From sandstone concretions around the Salton Sea...to the badlands of Death Valley, there is enough material to keep a hundred photographers busy for years to come." You don't need to do the math to see that if you multiply that by all the Western states, you wind up with a heckuva photo op. And Weston was getting into the game about a century late. As "Perpetual Mirage," a new photography show at New York's Whitney Museum, makes brilliantly clear, white settlement of the West and the young art of photography both got going around the middle of the 19th century, with the result that photographers have helped shape our myths about the West as well as documented hard truths. The history of American thought, from Manifest Destiny to modern environmentalism, can be traced through the images photographers have sent back from the frontier. ...
  • Successful Sisters

    LIKE JAMES MICHENER AND HIS GENERATIONAL EPICS AND TOM CLANCY AND HIS techno-thrillers, Terry McMillan created a new literary genre with her upbeat novels about contemporary black women. Then she went those other writers one better: she created an entirely new audience to go with her genre. Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, a Philadelphia literary promoter, claims that for African-American women desperate for something to read, McMillan's "books have replaced dates in the '90s." ...
  • James Rouse Sparked New Life In Old Cities

    HAD HE DONE NOTHING ELSE, JAMES W. Rouse, who died last Tuesday at 81, would go down as the world's most self-effacing real-estate developer. He wore rumpled, off-the-rack suits, flew coach and drove his own car. More important, the man responsible for introducing America to downtown festival marketplaces denigrated his own part in the evelopment process. "I didn't design it, build it, lease it. I didn't open it. Jim Rouse couldn't do any of those things. But because I'm the top of that pyramid, it's all credited to me. It's absurd." Even when you allow for a little false modesty in that statement, it's still amazing, coming from a developer. Donald Trump won't talk like that on Judgment Day. But then, as social critic Joel Garreau observes, "Everything Rouse did came from an unexpected direction." ...
  • Camelot. . . Going, Going, Gone

    THE MOST EAGERLY ANTICIPATED publishing event of 1996 is not a book at all but an auction catalog. Nearly a month before its publication in early March, Sotheby's, with orders for 15,000 copies, has already printed 100,000. At $90 for the hardcover and $45 for the paperback, that publishing schedule might seem wildly optimistic. But consider the title: "The Estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis." Pretty catchy, eh? ...
  • From Sea To Shining Sea

    STRICTLY SPEAKING, THE LEWIS AND Clark Expedition was a flop. Like Columbus, they set out to find something and failed. As Stephen E. Ambrose writes in _B_Undaunted Courage_b_ (511 pages. Simon and Schuster $27.50), his absorbing new history of that fabled journey, "the real headline news from the Lewis and Clark Expedition was that there was no allwater route across the continent." In hindsight, that ostensible failure looks like a footnote. It's what Meriwether Lewis and William Clark found, not what they failed to find, that we consider important. ...
  • A Soulful New 'Faust'

    In the first act of Randy Newman's new musical-comedy version of "Faust,"there is a song called Gainesville that so plaintively beautiful it makes you catch your breath. Against a Coplandesque melody, Faust's girlfriend Margaret tells us who she is and what she's made of: "I was born in Gainesville, Florida . . . and my mother ran a cafe near the university/ And she didn't raise a fool when she raised me." A disarmingly simple lyric, it reminds you of what's routinely missing from most modern musicals: tuneful melodies twinned with words that draw on the color and cadences of American speech. Such songwriting has become an almost forgotten art. But if you'd been at "Fanst's" opening night last week at the La Jolla (Calif.) Playhouse and heard members of the audience humming "Gainesville" at intermission, you couldn't be blamed for wondering whether New-man might not be the next bright hope of Broadway. ...
  • A Listener's Guide To The Dead

    Anyone who ever attended a Grateful Dead concert knows that their 28 albums never fully captured the concert experience. Like jazz musicians, the Dead used songs as jumping-off points. In three decades of performance, they improvised and reinvented their material so thoroughly that no tune ever sounded quite the same way twice. One of the sadder aspects of Jerry Garcia's death is that the magic of a Dead show is forever in the past tense, because the Dead without Garcia are hard to imagine. For the uninitiated, their recorded legacy is the only option. The seven albums below supply the best approximation of their unique sound:(1969). Start here. A concert recording released 26 years ago, this quintessential album still epitomizes the band at its best. The seven-song set leads off with a 23-minute version of "Dark Star," a jazzy midtempo epic that continually knots up and then unravels like a musical quest for answers that never come. The band's signature song for a quarter century,...
  • From A-Ak To Zywiec

    If western civilization were equipped with a cultural Richter scale, the meter would have easily hit 6 or 7 when the Eneyclopaedia Britannica, awash in red ink, recently announced that it was looking for buyers or investors. Having watched revenues take a 30 percent plunge in the last five years, the Chicago company desperately needs a buyer who can give it a cash infusion. But if this is bad news for Britannica, it is equally worrisome to anyone who grew up convinced that on the Sunday night before the Monday morning that the term paper was due, you could trust the Britannica to save your bacon (see: 11th- HOUR PANIC, PROCRASTINATION). If this grand old bulwark of the culture were to fold, what hope is left for America's youth? Or for civilization generally? How did this happen? One big reason: the computer. ...
  • The Melting Of Those Little Town Blues

    "We were the most powerful nation," F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his 1931 essay "Echoes of the jazz Age," his attempt to sum tip the era between World War I and the Crash of 1929. "Who could tell its anymore what was fashionable and what was fun?" The question was purely rhetorical. "The Americanization of everything," to use Gertrude Stein's phrase, was already an accomplished fact. Whereas only a few years earlier America had looked to London and Paris for its cultural cues, now "the whole world revolves around New York," according to the composer and bandleader Duke Ellington. ...
  • Roll Over, Paddy Moloney

    If someone had told us in 1969 that Mick and Marianne would share billing on a hit Chieftains album a quarter of a century hence, we would probably have freaked out big-time. But now at No. 24 on the Billboard chart is ""The Long Black Veil,'' a gem of a collectionby Ireland's most celebrated Celtic bandand a roster of big-name help. Paddy Moloney, the Chieftains' outstanding piper and producer, has deftly created a musical environment to suit each guest: Sting soars, Van Morrison croons and yaps, Sinead O'Connor amazes, Tom Jones chews up large pieces of furniture, Marianne Faithfull gives her four-packs-a-day voice a welcome airing out and the Rolling Stones are at their irreverent best. But it's the title track, sung by a keening Jagger over a stark accompaniment of bass, mandolin and didjeridu, that shines the brightest. If the thought of a jolly Irish jig sends you hotfoot to the nearest Ray Conniff collection -- hold fast. This is ancient music with the power to move both...
  • A Coughing Cow, Too Many Bears

    When it comes to figuring out the literary taste of children, not even Samuel Johnson got it right. ""Babies do not want to hear about babies,'' he declared. ""They like to be told about giants and castles.'' Kids do crave tales of castles and giants. But babies, as any parent could have told the childless Johnson, do too love hearing about and looking at pictures of other babies. After that, it's hard to generalize. One thing we know: kids subscribe to no canon. How many grandmothers have hauled out ""A Child's Garden of Verses,'' only to find themselves reading to a suddenly empty room? Kids judge books by very personal, often inscrutable standards. Take a book like Will Goes to the Post Office (R&S Books. $13), the third in a series by Olof and Lena Landstrom that began with ""Will's New Cap'' and ""Will Gets a Haircut.'' Nothing much happens in these simply drawn, lightly narrated stories. The titles don't sum up the plots; they are the plots. Still, a 3-year-old boy of our...
  • Ordinary People

    The main characters in Alice Munro's mesmerizing stories, mostly women, are an unprepossessing lot: librarians, eccentric spinsters, seamstresses, all of them denizens of small, drab, Canadian towns. But invariably, Munro pulls a switch, something like that old movie cliche where the mousy heroine removes her glasses, undoes her hair and reveals herself a beauty. In Munro's case, however, the revelation always amounts to more than a matter of looks. And more than just the simple-minded platitude that all people are interesting if only you take the time to get to know them. Munro's women can be dull. But they are rarely passive and never uninteresting. Chafing against repressive, imprisoning circumstances, they manage to kindle unpredictable outcomes that resonate with a peculiar yet satisfying rightness. ...
  • Hot Zones, Cold Chills

    Richard Preston may be no Stephen King, but he sure knows how to scare people. And Preston, a writer for The New Yorker, does it without making anything up. Anyone who reads even a couple of pages of The Hot Zone (400 pages. Random House. $23) will recognize a pro at work. Preston knows just the right tone to use: rational, dispassionate, sort of Claude-Rains-meets-National-Geographic. "So often in a case like this," he deadpans at the outset of his tale, "it's hard to pin down the details. The doctors remember the clinical signs, because no one who has ever seen the effects of a Biosafety Level 4 hot agent on a human being can forget them, but the effects pile up, one after the other, until they obliterate the person beneath them." ...
  • Pizza At Three O'clock

    It is axiomatic among mystery writers, no less than real-estate agents, that "location, location, location" are the three most important words in English. To the best crime writers, a sense of place is every bit as crucial as who killed Col. Mustard in the pantry with a candlestick. No one has ever caught the corrupt beauty of Los Angeles better than Raymond Chandler, and Rex Stout's wry evocation of Manhattan remains vivid two decades af-ter his death. But, as two new mysteries prove in very different ways, bringing a place to life in print is a tough trick. ...
  • Sense and Sensibility

    The elegant mysteries of the British author Peter Dickinson usually come equipped with a gimmick. In _B_The Yellow Room Conspiracy _b_(261 pages. Mysterious Press. $18.95), he marries the travails of a family uncannily resembling the Mitfords to a scandal that echoes the Profumo affair. Toss in some house envy right out of "Howards End," and you've got a plot that sounds unbearably borrowed. It is a measure of Dickinson's artistry that by the end of the first chapter you're no longer bothered by this.Two aging lovers, Lucy and Paul, narrate the story in alternating chapters. Each begins with the assumption that the other one murdered Gerry Grantworth years before. Grantworth was Lucy's old flame and Paul's old pal, but as each adds bits to the tale, the murder victim emerges as a stranger to them both. As they unravel his character, they edge ever closer to the identity of his murderer. As always, Dickinson's chief interest is not crime but character. Lucy Vereker and her four...
  • House Rockers

    FOR 26 YEARS, NRBQ'S performances have always had a "what's wrong with this picture" quality. The New Rhythm and Blues Quartet-known simply as "the Q" to its fans-specializes in hummable, danceable songs about falling in love and cruising with the top down. But they like to pull the rug out from under your expectations. They might slip in a Duke Ellington tune or a Chipmunks song. Or it might be one of their own numbers with nutty lyrics like "Howard Johnson's Got His Ho-Jo Workin'." Idiosyncratic pop at its best, NRBQ's music suggests what might happen if Huck Finn and Bugs Bunny strapped on Stratocasters. Not long ago at the Bottom Line in New York City, things hit the surreal maximum when the band charged into its anthemic tribute to "Girl Scout Cookies" from its new album, "Message From the Mess Age." Without missing a beat, the musicians began gleefully throwing those cookies into the audience. Literally and figuratively, the crowd ate it up. ...
  • The Fallout Of The Burnout

    Kurt Cobain's body was discovered at his Seattle home, about 5,000 people gathered under a slate-gray Seattle sky for a candlelight vigil. The distraught crowd filled the air with profane chants, burned their flannel shirts and fought with police. They also listened to a tape made by Cobain's wife, Courtney Love, in which she read from his suicide note: "I haven't felt the excitement in listening to as well as creating music ... for so many years now ... I don't have the passion any more. So remember, it's better to burn out than fade away." Love punctuated her reading with sobbing, recrimination and obscenities, exclaiming, "He's such an asshole. I want all of you to say 'asshole' really loud." She got what she asked for. ...
  • Maybe The Kangaroo Did It

    NOBODY WROTE BETTER DETECTIVE stories than Raymond Chandler or better science fiction than Philip K. Dick. Chandler captured midcentury California in prose as gaudy as it was precise: his screwhall similes clipped the corner of the plate every time. Dick was Chandler's dark twin, a man who couldn't write his way out of a wet paper sack. Yet his dystopian sci-fi, which saw the future as just a crummier version of the present, a carbon of a carbon of a carbon, nicely complements Chandler's vision of California as an ersatz Eden. ...
  • Speaking Of The Devil

    PAUL INGRAM'S DAUGHTERS ARE EVERY parent's worst nightmare. Ericka and Julie were obedient, responsible girls and faithful to their family's fundamentalist religion. Julie had won the state championship in the Future Homemakers of America contest two years in a row. Then, in the fall of 1988, when Ericka was 22 and Julie 18, both daughters suddenly moved out of their parents' house in Olympia, Wash. Several weeks later, they told their mother and the authorities that their father had been sexually molesting them for years. Before long they were embellishing their accusations with descriptions of Satan worship that included gang rape and the slaughter of babies. Several of the men they identified as members of the cult worked in the Thurston County Sheriff's department, where Paul Ingram was a deputy. But the most frightening thing about the case was that without a shred of corroborating evidence, Ericka and Julie convinced everyone-including their father-that their story was true.In...
  • The New Publishers' Row

    IN THE WORLD OF BOOK PUBLISHING, Richard Snyder is known as a pugnacious businessman who's never at a loss for words. So it's surprising to find the chairman of Paramount Publishing peevish and defensive. "Why should the book business be inefficient?" he asked in an interview with NEWSWEEK. "Why is that the glorification of literature?" ...
  • The Ghost Writer At Home On The Range

    THE WIND HAD BECOME EVEN MORE SEVERE, AND HE HAD THE SICKENING SENSE THAT HE, NOT HIS HAT, WAS ABOUT TO BLOW AWAY. THERE WASN'T A TREE IN SIGHT THAT HE COULD SEE: JUST ENDLESS PLAIN. UNLESS HE COULD ROLL UP AGAINST A WAGON WHEEL, AS HIS HAT HAD, THERE WOULD BE NOTHING TO STOP HIM FOR DAYS, IF HE BLEW AWAY. HE KNEW IT WAS AN ABSURD FEELING: GROWN MEN, ESPECIALLY HEAVY MEN SUCH AS HIMSELF, DIDN'T JUST BLOW AWAY. YET THE FEELING PERSISTED, AND EVERY TIME HE HAPPENED TO GLANCE ACROSS THE STREET AND SEE NOTHING--NOTHING AT ALL EXCEPT GRASS AND SKY--THE FEELING GOT WORSE. ...
  • The Blues In High Cotton

    The new Cambridge, Mass., nightclub House of Blues is a juke joint wanna-be. Promoting--you might say enshrining--live blues music, this latest brainchild of Isaac Tigrett, mastermind of the Hard Rock Cafes, makes a fetish out of funkiness. Its plain wooden walls are covered with Mississippi Delta folk art; its ceilings wear graffiti. And while the place has been open only since last November, someone has scuffed the paint off the chairs to make them look old. ...
  • Fabien Baron's Grand Designs

    The topless woman in the leather bodysuit was whipping the man next to her, but almost nobody paid attention. It was last month's party for Madonna's "Sex" book, and the crowd, like a fist, crushed in on the event's motley trinity: Madonna, photographer Steven Meisel and art director Fabien Baron. ...
  • 'The Highway That's The Best'

    When I first heard about the thousands of fervent Route 66 enthusiasts, I wanted to like them, but I had my doubts. It wasn't a question of their judgment. Route 66 is America's most famous and most fabled highway, hands down. It would be almost unpatriotic not to like it. No, the problem is that, strictly speaking, Route 66 no longer exists. ...