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IN BRIEF

Fiction

May 26, 1996|MICHAEL HARRIS

FAST GREENS by Turk Pipkin (Dial Press: $19.95; 240 pp.). Is golf a metaphor for life? Yes, indeed. It's the flaws in our character that make those short putts rim out; it's our potential for transcendence that makes the occasional half-topped wedge hit the flagstick square in the middle and dive for the hole. But even the prettiest metaphors get tired after a while. Michael Murphy's "Golf in the Kingdom" used up the best possibilities of the genre in one stroke--a spiritual autobiography of the Esalen co-founder that was partly fact and, even in its wildest fiction, insinuatingly persuasive. Later, Steven Pressfield's "The Legend of Bagger Vance" elaborated Murphy's themes into a baroque fantasy. Turk Pipkin's novel "Fast Greens," privately published in 1994 and now reissued, is a more modest effort, though it takes its divots out of some of the same fairways. Set in West Texas in the 1930s and 1960s, it leaves mysticism alone; its guiding spirit, instead of God, is that late king of hustlers, Titanic Thompson.

Two elderly rascals, William March and Roscoe Fowler, aim to settle a Depression-era grudge 27 years later by teaming up with experts and staging a nine-hole match refereed by what may be a Las Vegas hit man. They have been partners in the oil business and rivals for the love of Jewel Anne Hemphill, grandmother of Billy, the 13-year-old caddie who narrates the story. Many unlikely things happen and Billy learns a number of lessons about life and love--and cheating--before the last ball rattles in the cup. Pipkin, surprisingly, holds our interest more with the characters and their backgrounds, which have feeling and Texas lore behind them, than with the golf, which is strictly a daydream.

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