- By Charles Ealy Special to the American-Statesman
West Texas native Roger D. Hodge’s new book, “Texas Blood,” has a peculiar structure — and a peculiar approach. It’s part memoir, part travelogue, part history and part literary criticism.
In other words, it’s quite remarkable, mainly because it refuses to follow traditional forms of storytelling, and that makes it all the more interesting.
And here’s the strange thing: The most intriguing part of this book, especially for anyone who appreciates the writing of Cormac McCarthy, is an essay on how underappreciated “No Country for Old Men” has been. This essay, in a slightly different form, was first published in February 2006 in “Harper’s Magazine,” and it’s as wonderful today as it was then, exploring McCarthy’s dark visions about violence, both past and present.
But it’s even more startling because of how this essay fits in with the whole of Hodge’s themes in his new book, which is subtitled “Seven Generations Among the Outlaws, Ranchers, Indians, Missionaries, Soldiers, and Smugglers of the Borderlands.”
Hodge, who lives in Brooklyn, says he was haunted by the tidbits of the past that he picked up while growing up in West Texas, mainly in the Del Rio area, and near Devil’s River. He knows the area well, but it’s also clear that he’s done more than his share of research to flesh out the Texas tale.
If you’re like some readers, you’ll be looking for footnotes, wanting to know where Hodge got certain anecdotes. You won’t find them. And that’s the only frustrating part of this narrative. You might be able to deduct the sources by studying the bibliography, but this omission will irritate some readers.
Still, “Texas Blood” (Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95) is full of wonderful stories as Hodge retraces the journeys of his ancestors, from the eastern United States to Missouri to Texas to California and back to Texas. One of the coolest tidbits? His ancestors in Texas, who go back seven generations, used to own a ranch in what is now Big Bend National Park.
And if you suspect his might be a provincial story of an overly proud Texan, you’re wrong. Hodge is the national editor of “The Intercept,” an online publication created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Previously he was the editor of the “Oxford American” and “Harper’s Magazine.”
A lot of the book looks at the current debate over the border — how to secure it, the role that the drug trade has played and the efforts of the Border Patrol to use technology to thwart criminals.
Hodge is not a fan of President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall. But this book was written before the election of Trump, and it doesn’t directly address suggestions of building a wall. Instead, Hodge takes us into the world of border agents and new technology, some details of which were first published in “Popular Science.”
But Hodge’s narrative soars when he talks about the hardships faced by early settlers. Some of his forebears died in their frequent migrations, as did so many people back in the early days of the nation. The brilliance is in the details.
Hodge will participate in a panel discussion of his new book at 3 p.m. Sunday at the C-SPAN Tent during the Texas Book Festival. The session is titled Forces at Work: Contemporary Stories of the Border.