Hug Dancing, Shelby Hearon’s 12th novel, is set in Waco, Tex., the Baptist capital of the Free World. The book’s title refers to the sinful practice of dance partners touching one another, country-western, buckle-to-buckle style, which to the Baptist way of thinking usually leads to something far worse, like adultery. As her fans will expect, the author plays as many riffs as possible on this theme. ”Adultery can be fun” is a familiar bumper sticker on the Hearonmobile. Other Hearon staples include relentlessly cute children, the joys of renovating old houses, the piquant flavor of Texas folkways and festivals, and the mournful wails of country music.
Although heroine and narrator Cile Tait is a preacher’s wife, this novel is no Scarlet Letter. Everybody is so understanding that adultery in modern-day Waco seems about as dangerous as Ping-Pong and as comic as mud wrestling. Hearon’s Waco has the look (and depth) of a Benetton clothing ad. Neighborhoods are successfully integrated, and everybody talks knowledgeably about the Pacific Rim. The sociology is upper-sitcom bourgeoisie.
The main issue here is the Land, without which most Texas novels cannot be jump-started. Cile’s lover, Drew, owns miles and miles of Texas that are threatened by the superconducting supercollider venture. To the ecological rescue comes an unlikely local hero: the fire ant. Because fire ants apparently love the taste of electrical wiring, Hearon’s two lovers convince themselves that an invasion of the critters dooms the supercollider project to expensive delays, possibly failure. In the meantime, Cile and Drew will survive. That is, if they don’t OD on massive cholesterol intake from the mountains of fatty food they eat all through this novel, washed down by the local poison, Dr Pepper. B-