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Three Books You Need to Read This Summer

Learn about three substantial releases from authors with Texas ties, including former Dallas Observer editor Joe Tone's horse racing cartel epic, Bones.
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Courtesy of Book publisher

The Neon Palm of Madame Melançon

(Middle Finger Press)
By Will Clarke

Will Clarke’s third novel would have more than enough story if it just followed lawyer Duke Melançon while he helps fictional conglomerate Mandala Worldwide navigate the aftermath of the explosion of one of its deep-sea oil rigs in the Gulf. There is a darkly funny satire in the doublespeak and khaki culture of corporate America (by day, Clarke is a Dallas adman and marketer). But Duke is also dealing with the sudden disappearance of his fortune-telling mother, the titular Madame Melançon, and the fallout from that, with his huge, estranged New Orleans family, including a one-legged, one-eyed, clarinet-playing father and pothead priest uncle. While Clarke’s compulsively readable book chugs along those parallel tracks, gaining steady momentum, it has higher ambitions than either plotline’s seemingly natural destination. Not to put too fine a point on it, but what’s really going on is a battle across time and space and alternate realities for the very soul of human existence. No big deal. It’s a battle that includes swarms of rabid raccoons, adult diapers, famous dead authors, and infamous living artists. The Neon Palm is set in 2010, but its eyes are on Make America Great Again 2017 and its mind is on some disastrous (but hopefully avoidable) point even further in the distance. It sometimes feels like Clarke’s Big Ideas might be a little too big, but he manages to pull it all off. —Zac Crain

Bones: Brothers, Horses, Cartels, and the Borderland Dream

(One World)
By Joe Tone

Here’s how Joe Tone describes young FBI agent Scott Lawson: “He learned to talk to people in a way that made the truth fall from them like ripe apples from tree limbs, urged by only the gentlest twists.” Much of Bones reads like that, a colorful thriller. But this book is the result of reporting that took Tone from North Texas to tracks across the Southwest, as he explored how the murderous Zeta drug cartel came to be a major player in quarter horse racing. A key player, it turns out, was a bricklayer who lived in Balch Springs and whose brother just happened to run the Zetas. Tone is a former editor of the Dallas Observer, for which he wrote a story that led to this, his first book. We highly recommend it, even though Tone recently moved to the Washington, D.C., area. —Tim Rogers

Marfa: The Transformation of a West Texas Town

(University of Texas Press)
By Kathleen Shafer

“Marfa,” writes artist and writer Kathleen Shafer in her new book about the tiny West Texas art hub, Marfa: The Transformation of a West Texas Town, “is no longer just the name of a town. Marfa is a style, an identity, a character … ” In this theoretical context, Shafer sets out to capture a place that, while well-fixed in the firmament of Texas’ cultural identity—a pilgrimage for any art or culture lover or practitioner living in Dallas—proves surprisingly elusive. Born as a railroad water stop, its eventual establishment as an art-world mecca after Donald Judd’s arrival in the 1970s turned much of the town into a massive museum and helped attract other artists, festivals, tourists, film productions, and hipsters. Today, Shafer writes, there is a split between “real” Marfa—a struggling ranching community that is rapidly pricing out locals—and the “ideal” Marfa, which exists primarily on Instagram or in the New York Times’ travel section. The town that emerges in her book is one beset by social, historical, and even moral contradictions. —Peter Simek

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