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Allen Wier Biography

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Nationality: American. Born: San Antonio, Texas, 1946. Education: Baylor University, B.A. 1968; Louisiana State University, M.A. 1970; Bowling Green State University, M.F.A. 1974. Career: Yard clerk, Kansas City Southern Railroad, 1966-67; laborer, All-Tex Ranch Supply, Waco, Texas, 1967-68; instructor in English, Longwood College, Farmville, Virginia, 1970-72; assistant professor of English, Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1974-75; assistant professor of English, Hollins College, Virginia, 1975-79; associate professor and later professor, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, 1980-94; professor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 1994—. Awards: Robert Penn Warren Award (Fellowship of Southern Writers), 1997. Agent: Irene Tumulty, Julian Bach Literary Agency, Inc., 3 East 48th Street, New York, New York 10017, U.S.A.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Blanco. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1978.

Departing as Air: A Novel. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1983.

A Place for Outlaws. New York, Harper, 1989.

Short Stories

Things about to Disappear. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1978.

Other

Editor with Don Hendrie, Jr., Voicelust: Eight Contemporary Fiction Writers on Style. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1985.

Editor, Walking on Water and Other Stories. Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 1996.

Introduction, Bad Man Blues: A Portable George Garrett. Dallas, Texas, Southern Methodist University Press, 1998.

* * *

Allen Wier is one of the finest novelists to emerge from the American Southwest, and yet his novels transcend regional boundaries in their reflection upon human loneliness, the improbability of real human connections, and the tenuousness of life itself. Evocative of the works of such masters as William Goyen and Katherine Anne Porter, Wier's novels depict realistic characters whose stories become melanges of memory, imagination, and event that question the very nature of reality, of past and future. Blanco, Wier's first novel, is named after a real town in the Texas Hill Country north of San Antonio, but its spiritual setting is that of the American small town peopled by inhabitants who are isolated from one another and thereby dwell in their own death-obsessed imaginations. Departing as Air moves into a more exotic landscape, both literal and symbolic, shifting in time and memory from the frozen World War II landscape of Kansas, through Texas, to the fragrant, lush, and magical setting of Mexico, where memory and imagination become indistinguishable. A Place for Outlaws, Wier's most realistic and traditional novel, follows the life of Julia Marrs from its uncertain beginning to a sort of spiritual triumph in maturity and existential freedom. In all three novels, Wier's understanding of human frailty tempered by an affirmation of tragic nobility establishes him as a major voice in contemporary American fiction.

Blanco—in Spanish the word for white, blank, or empty—depicts the lives of Eunice Marrs, her son Turk, daughter June, and sonin-law Cage. Turk, at forty-five, still lives with Eunice, or Momma, as she is most often called, a passive-aggressive widow who spends much of her time on the phone discussing the illnesses and deaths of other people and predicting the certainty of her own death. Turk has not yet found his niche in life, nor has he been able to declare his love for Sally, his old sweetheart who has already outlived or divorced three husbands. Between husbands, Sally amuses herself with Turk, but would not in the words of Eunice, marry Turk "if it harelipped the governor." Married but not connected to Cage, June floats in the pink landscape of her imagination, subliminally aware that she may have health problems, foreshadowed by a surreal pre-marital exam at the public health department, and, later, by the rotting pink Christmas tree in her pink living room. Both Turk and June have trouble sorting reality—the past, even the present—from fantasy. When Turk realizes that the past is "a made-up story no more real than the future," he articulates one of the central motifs of Wier's fiction—life and time are ephemeral, shifting, fragile as the Texas landscape that Cage and his business associates are developing at lightning speed.

In Departing as Air, a novel that could be called magical realism, Wier intensifies his use of imagination as an alternate reality that blends with memory to shape the past of his principal character, Jessie. Aging now, Jessie tries to reconstruct the major events of her life as she studies old photographs of Camel, a man she has loved, followed to Mexico, and lost, in a way concealed or obscured by the juxtaposition of memory and imagination. When Jessie's first husband, Marlin, a man old enough to be her father, dies of a gallbladder ailment, Jessie is free to follow Camel to Mexico, where he has gone to buy cut flowers for a wholesale florist in Texas. The memory of Marlin plagues Jessie as if she has murdered him, and once in Mexico she confesses the imagined crime to a priest even though she is not Catholic. Jessie's imagination, reflected in the photographs she takes and the lush Mexican setting, shapes the novel with visions of horror and beauty, of madness and love. But Jessie's visions, or memories, are also tactile, concrete; they resonate with the smell of burnt coffee from the grocery bag of a beautiful woman electrocuted in a freak street accident, the soft feel of a pair of elegant alligator shoes. Jessie's memory cannot, or does not, isolate the loss of Camel. He is seized deep in the jungle by Mexican soldiers; he joins a renegade priest in search of his former wife, Miss Minnesota, whose body has disappeared from her casket after the plane transporting it crashes between North Dakota and Minnesota; he develops lung cancer. In the world of the novel, the most realistic "memory" is the least plausible. Camel has appeared in Jessie's life as if out of thin air and he departs as air. Experience cannot be grasped, lives not possessed, not even in the photographs that stir memory.

A Place for Outlaws returns to the more traditional form of the realistic novel. Outlaws tells the story of a self-reliant woman, Julia Marrs, the name if not the character repeated from Blanco. After her mother dies, Julia is raised first by her fundamentalist grandmother, Huldah, then by her flighty Aunt Annabelle, who is as much of a child as is Julia. Although she is twice orphaned, Julia is loved in both homes and grows into a capable young woman. Engaged to Larry Otto, the son of a wealthy cotton farmer, Julia is introduced to Avery Marrs, and her life at once changes. In the dislocation of World War II, Julia marries Avery and begins to live what might appear to be a charmed life with their son Cole. When tragedy comes Julia's way, she does not falter. But in Wier's fiction, life is never clean, never neat. Julia's charmed life, and Cole's as well, develops a dark side, a flirtation with danger, with violence that seems to pervade American culture. A professor of American studies at a university in Alabama, Cole is caught up in a drama fraught with estranged husbands and guns that leads him back into his mother's life and more violence. That Cole and Julia transcend speaks to the Biblical beginnings of the novel, to questions of redemption, and eventually to Julia's acceptance of existential freedom and responsibility. In many ways, A Place for Outlaws is Wier's most compelling novel because Julia Marrs, her fallibility, and her decency in a not-too-decent world, resonate through its pages. Outlaws draws on Wier's skill as a first-rate storyteller and his strong eye for character.

Wier's fictional landscapes, inner and outer, are constructed with insight and craft. Certainly his three novels, together with his short story collection Things about to Disappear, and his writings on contemporary fiction earn him a place among the finest of contemporary American writers.

—Celia M. Kingsbury

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