Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Goodnight, Texas.
With Goodnight, Texas, William J. Cobb paints a sublime picture of Goodnight, a small fishing village in Texas, some of its citizens, and how they deal with the economic hardships brought about by the failing shrimping and fishing industry, due in part to global warming.
The town of Goodnight by the Sea lies on a peninsula between two bays, Red Moon and Humosa. On top of the woes brought on by the failure of the shrimping/fishing industry, the townspeople face the prospect of being devastated further by Hurricane Tanya and its aftermath. There’s plenty of interpersonal angst to go around, also, and lots of colorful characters. Cobb’s writing evokes such greats as Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Faulkner in his portrayal of the everyday lives, loves, and suffering of everyday people trying to make it in the world, and Goodnight, Texas deserves to reach a wide audience.
The novel is lyrical, the author making extensive use of poetic metaphors, some of which work perhaps better than others; but the style adroitly allows the reader to easily visualize whatever scene Cobb is trying to present. Goodnight by the Sea is a microcosm illuminating how global warming, a terrible economy, and an unstoppable force of nature such as a hurricane can affect all of us, and the dreams and sufferings of the townspeople become ours as we read about their travails.
The book opens up with Captain Douglas, the captain of the shrimping boat Maria de las Lagrimas, explaining to one of his deckhands, Gabriel Perez, that they have both been laid off because “the owner had informed him that morning he’d decided to sell out, couldn’t afford the costs of diesel and their pay with how little they’d been catching.” Gabriel and the other fishermen find some solace in the bottle, boozing it up at the Black Tooth Cafe owned by a Russian emigre named Gusef Smurov, who is at turns humorous, philosophical, realistic and profane. One of the employees at the Black Tooth is a seventeen-year-old named Falk who finds himself embroiled in a love triangle with another employee, Una Vu, whose father was Vietnamese and mother Mexican, and Gabriel Perez.
When a gigantic dead zebra fish washes up on the shore, so huge that if you look down its throat you can see it has swallowed a white colt, Falk has the idea that this can become a big money-maker for himself and Gusef. He is interested in photography and always has a Nikon camera with him, and he believes he can sell photos of the huge fish to some newspaper. Also, he and Gusef figure if they get the fish to a taxidermist and have it stuffed, mounted and displayed on the roof of the Black Tooth, they can draw more customers.
All works fine with this plan - for awhile, at least, until Hurricane Tanya unleashes her fury on the town. Gabriel manages to get another job as a bus driver and Driver’s Education teacher at the high school, but he is a sexual predator and wants revenge on Falk for stealing his girlfriend, Una, away. He is the least sympathetic character in the book and takes advantage of his new job opportunity as a chance to get revenge on Falk by seducing Falk’s cousin, Leesha, and her mother, with whom Falk has lived since his parents died. She eventually becomes pregnant by Perez, unwittingly a pawn in the scheme of revenge.
Goodnight, Texas is an epic tale brought down to the size of one small fishing village and its inhabitants; but it is no less sweeping in its grandeur because of that. The lives of the characters are richly realized, the plots and subplots are intelligently laid out by the author, and everything seems to happen as if it was inevitable. The lives of the townspeople play out,as much forces of nature as is Hurricane Tanya. I would have liked to have read more about what happens to Leesha, but that is a minor complaint compared to the many elements I enjoyed about Goodnight, Texas. I think it eventually may well be considered as a masterpiece of American fiction and that William J. Cobb will join the ranks of our nation’s best writers.