CRAZY HEART by Thomas Cobb (Harper & Row: $15.95; 256 pp.). Life on the road for faded country crooner/guitarist Bad Blake is one honky-tonk after another, frequented by women in Dacron and men in Stay-Press leisure wear, bedrock 'mericans living in Western towns where cacti outnumber people.
In his debut novel, "Crazy Heart," Thomas Cobb has produced a piercing, keenly observed chronicle of modern Americana, getting across current mores and attitudes as experienced by C&W musician Blake. Indeed, "Crazy Heart" viscerally places the reader right into the desolate heartland where chicken-fried steak oozes pale gravy and motel rooms crumble in the desert sun.
When Blake, "The Wrangler of Love," is first encountered, he's out in Pueblo, Colo., with $10 to his name. And staring at him down the road are more old hits and a bunch of sweaty nightmares about his numerous divorces and the son he hasn't seen in two decades. What the years of touring have taught the 57-year-old Blake can be summed up in two rules: "Keep your wrist steady and don't marry nobody." Moreover, as Blake later says of road work, "Musicians are like patent medicine sellers. They got to keep moving or folks are going to figure out what's going on."
Though "Crazy Heart" ends far less convincingly then it begins (really just petering out), it is an auspicious first work by a writer who holds much promise.