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FICTION : BABY HOUSTON by June Arnold (Texas Monthly: $16.95; 268 pp.).

July 19, 1987|Taffy Cannon

June Arnold's posthumously published novel "Baby Houston" is wise and wry, a touching evocation of the complexities of family relationships. "Baby," both nicknamed for and handicapped by her slot in a wealthy family's birth order, returns widowed and vulnerable to Houston with two young daughters. She's 39, same age as the century, and at the financial mercy of her patronizing older brother, a "plump kitten" in the burgeoning Houston economy.

Through the next 25 years of flirtations, marriages, illnesses, deaths, joys and disappointments, Baby's most enduring and passionate relationships are with her two headstrong and free-spirited daughters and their children. In her treatment of the rich and intricate relationship between Baby and her daughter Hallie, Arnold is at her best, and the best of this book is very good indeed.

Arnold was a native Houstonian and novelist who moved north and co-founded the important feminist press Daughters Inc. in 1972. In 1978, she returned to Houston to write this novel from her544042868only the development of one woman and her family, but also that of an entire city and culture. There's a wonderful background to the story, modern Houston inventing itself willy-nilly, dollar by dollar, million by million, over a quarter century.

"Baby Houston" is a captivating and poignant portrait of a complicated woman in a culture demanding that she be simple.

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