Wilton Barnhardt: Lookaway, Lookaway

Novelist Wilton Barnhardt’s latest release, Lookaway, Lookaway, isn’t always easy to read. Barnhardt, here to read from and sign copies of the newly released paperback version of Lookaway, has crafted a sometimes hilarious, sometimes heart--wrenching story about an “old-money-empty-bank-account” society maven who desperately tries to hold onto her family and reputation (though not necessarily in that order). Bits of the story hit a little too close to home. Jerene Jarvis Johnston (real Southern women always have three names) is among North Carolina’s most esteemed socialites and philanthropists. She’s also a white-knuckle control freak who directs her husband’s and four kids’ every move. Stand here. Say that. Pretend this never happened. Wait until later to have an emotion.

Her wealthy, famous and very drunk brother Gaston is a bit harder to handle, though not for lack of trying on her part. He holds court at the country club, making snide Truman Capote-esque remarks about everything and — to Jerene’s dismay — everyone. The club members, who vary from equally wealthy to equally drunk, find his slightly scandalous proclamations titillating. Jerene, however, is not amused. Gaston’s a best-selling author who writes tired and trite historical novels set in the Deep South during the Civil War. (He’s careful not to make them too realistic; it seems his white readers love to read about the miseries of life as a slave, but only if there’s a kindhearted owner in the -picture.) In Barnhardt’s hands, Jerene’s escapades are hysterically funny. And uncomfortably familiar.

7 p.m. Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet. For information, call 713‑523‑0701 or visit brazosbookstore.com. Free.
Tue., July 15, 7 p.m., 2014

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Olivia Flores Alvarez