Grapes of Wrath meets Boogie Nights, in an interview with John Williams of the New York Times, that's how Bryan Mealer describes his new book The Kings of Big Spring, which chronicles his family history of faith and fortune.
In the winter of 1981, when Bryan is seven years old, his father, Bobby Mealer, receives a call from an old friend with a simple question, "How'd you like to be a millionaire?"
Twenty-six, and with a wife and three kids, Bobby had left Big Spring, his hometown, to seek a life removed from the blowing dust and oil fields, and to find spiritual peace. But now Big Spring's streets are flooded again with roughnecks, money, and sin. Boom chasers pour in from the busted factory towns in the north. Drilling rigs rise like timber along the pastures, and poor men become millionaires overnight.
Grady Cunningham, Bobby's old friend, is one of the newly-minted kings of Big Spring. Loud and flamboyant, with a penchant for floor-length fur coats, Grady pulls Bobby and his young wife into his glamorous orbit. While drilling wells for Grady's oil company, they fly around on private jets and embrace the honky-tonk high life of Texas oilmen. But beneath the Rolexes and Rolls Royce cars is a reality as dark as the crude itself. As Bobby soon discovers, his return to Big Spring is a backslider's journey into a spiritual wilderness, and one that could cost him his life.
A masterwork of memoir and narrative history, The Kings of Big Spring is an indelible portrait of fortune and ruin as big as Texas itself. And in telling the story of four generations of his family, Bryan also tells the story of how America came to be.
Bryan Mealer will recount part of the saga at the Arkansas Literary Festival on Saturday, April 28, 2018 at 4:00 p.m. in CALS Ron Robinson Theater.