Edisto Revisited

Overview

Padgett Powell's fourth work of fiction picks up several years after his first left off, on a strip of coast in the low country of South Carolina, sometime home to Simons Manigault. Simons is now out of college and trying to forestall the career expected by his ebulliently conventional father. His mother, the hard-drinking literary doctor, favors otherwise and quietly engineers the opening of other avenues to her son. One of these is scandalous. We meet again Powell's distinctive supporting cast: the longtime ...
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Edisto Revisited: A Novel

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Overview

Padgett Powell's fourth work of fiction picks up several years after his first left off, on a strip of coast in the low country of South Carolina, sometime home to Simons Manigault. Simons is now out of college and trying to forestall the career expected by his ebulliently conventional father. His mother, the hard-drinking literary doctor, favors otherwise and quietly engineers the opening of other avenues to her son. One of these is scandalous. We meet again Powell's distinctive supporting cast: the longtime caretaker, Athenia; Jake, the solid bartender of Simons's childhood hangout, the Baby Grand; the displaced, confused gentry; and the mysterious Taurus, whose lack of presumption marks Simons as both boy and man. A significant newcomer is Simons's cousin Patricia Hod, depicted with the narrator's usual combination of sardonic humor and dead seriousness.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
There was a time when the ideal Southern gentleman was stiff in his bearing and almost Prussian in his certitude. However, Simons Manigault, Powell's upper-class creation from the Carolina coast, sloughs off with a conceit endemic to his generation of literary characters. More in keeping with the Southern stereotype, the novel begins with Simons having a short but steamy affair with first-cousin Patricia-a woman "who knew what to do with herself." This proves too much for poor recent college graduate Simons, who escapes for a series of adventures deeper south. He tries his hand at fishing in Corpus Christi, quits, and again flees, this time to visit with Taurus, Simons's alcoholic mother's former lover, who is a game warden in the deepest bayou in Louisiana. All the while he debates accepting the responsibility concomitant with adulthood. The strange settings and vivid characterizations make up for a plot that does little to advance the coming-of-age motif. Yet Powell's writing summons the climate and character of the South in a visceral way that only a few of its sons have managed. Recommended for collections of serious fiction.-Adam Mazmanian, "Library Journal"
Scott Spencer
"Brilliant prose...with his wit, his dazzling terms of phrase, and his utter disdain for middle-brow political correctness, Mr. Powell is like a fabulous guest at a dinner party." -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Powell returns to the coastal South Carolina town that was the setting for his first novel, Edisto (1984), and though it's years later, his "lost souls" haven't exactly found themselves. Thank goodness for that, for nobody needs platitudes when we have Powell's inimitably goofy sententiousness—a compendium of boozy wit and dyspeptic wisdom.

Simons Manigault, the precocious narrator of Edisto, has grown up, sort of. After managing to secure a degree in architecture, he's now retreated back home. His country club Daddy, meanwhile, expects him to fulfill his destiny with a fancy Atlanta firm. Simons's mom languishes by the shore, gin and tonic still in hand. Visiting her is Simons's sexy older cousin Patricia. Simons and she become lovers, creating "a match made in helplessness," with no small amount of taboo tossed in. Simons's first cousin has had a series of relationships with men that, he learns, always end in psychotic behavior and lesbian dabblings, matters sufficiently alarming to convince him to hit the road. After a desultory period spent fish brokering in Texas, Simons catches up with his mother's old lover, Taurus, now a game warden in Louisiana, who shows him what "lies at the absolute end of the road of dalliance." A night with two obese nurses also demonstrates "the nadir of sexual opportunity," and Simons heads home to become a "visionless architect shacked up with his cousin," settling into a career in which he blithely dupes his clients with artsy lingo. Simons has always been AWOL ("absent with opprobrious love"), though now he's transferred that love from his mother to Patricia. All of which proves his point that "you get in grooves in life, and you by God stay in them until the record plays out."

Powell cleverly mocks the burdens of southern history ("The Wawer, The Wawer!"), and plays Simons as the most outlandish southern poseur, but it's his awesome command of language that finally makes him a writer to reckon with.

From the Publisher
"Headlong, often hilarious, and sneakily profound; like Edisto, a must-read. "-Ian Frazier

"Brilliant prose . . . with his wit, his dazzling turns of phrase, and his utter disdain for middlebrow political correctness, Mr. Powell is like a fabulous guest at a dinner party. "-Scott Spencer, The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781480464155
  • Publisher: Open Road Media
  • Publication date: 1/28/2014
  • Pages: 180
  • Sales rank: 1,543,737
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.41 (d)

First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

I, SIMONS MANIGAULT, did not go to Harvard, following my mother's Quentin Compson, nor to Sewanee, following my father's footsteps and hopes. The titans of parenting came to a sorry compromise: I matriculated at Clemson, took a degree in architecture, which I could foresee never practicing but which was agreeable in the extreme against the prospect of reading for critical purposes the literature my mother bade me consume as a child. When you have read of Hester Prynne and her A as a bedtime story, more or less, you are not prepared to be waked up--and it is fancied a heady awakening--with it in a classroom. No, you are not.

My mother waked me to sleep, and I take my sleeping slow, as the poet with plenty of lying topspin did not put it, and I am inclined to a life of perennial nod.

I had some promise, it is said. It is not specified who promised what, of what the promise was made, where it inclined, on whom it bade well. Its bearing, its speed, its content I deem never adequately specified before I broke it.

I have a prurient mind, inclined once to what is called promiscuity, incline to what is called alcoholism, am insensitive to others' feelings, lack methods of self-preservation despite marked selfishness, am analytically slow, if not stupid, am badly undereducated, show evidence of moral and physical cowardice, and have a perennial spare tire about my soft gut. Beyond this there is not much wrong with me. I have all my hair and all my teeth.

The house I grew up in and lived to make much of as a chIld, with its surround of noises from the sea and its books--sand peppering the walls as I read my mother's bidding--is now, when I visit, a hot, dull, small place. My mother, for whom and for whose drinking I once had poetic locutions, is today a tired, ragged, happy drinker.

My old man goes every year for his prostate exam, to a doctor who is, of course, a childhood friend and Yacht Club colleague, and with whom he will have a drink not two hours after the fellow's latexed finger has been having a look. My father, it would seem, is notorious in the small ways that the prostate-vigilant can be: he will not wait for the doctor, who must remove his glove first, to procure him a tissue, but waddles hobbled to the stainless-steel box and grabs a handful of the coarse brown folded sheets and swabs out the scene and is buttoning up before the doctor's glove is off. My hallowed, vaunted heritage. I know the scene because the Yacht Club hears it once a year, instant replay--my old man wobbles for a napkin in the telling--and a story told once at the Yacht Club is told a thousand times in a thousand lesser places. On the issue of Jews, who are excluded from the Yacht Club, or the issue, specifically, of my having dated one, my father is a liberal: "All cats are black at night."

There you have it. A fellow as lugubriously sensitive as I was once alleged, and who may admittedly have served notice to that effect himself, would have killed himself. I suppose only familiarity with suicide poets--that I can thank my mother for--and in particular with young suicide poets, bred enough contempt that I declared the route invalid. I detoured into meanness. And into, I suppose it is fair to say, practicality. There is not going to be anything particularly horrifying about your old man talking about K-Y jelly and Jews and real estate in one breath, or your mother languishing of a broken literary heart, or your having your average career in venereal diseases and land-grant architectural programs. I avoid football games and do not make a point of fraternizing with members of other races. Other than that, I am properly collegiate in America. It is true that the proper do not know whom they have on their hands, but that is true, when you get down to it, of everyone. Or nearly everyone. Is it not?

Upon completion of my studies in drawing buildings, I put everything on the lawn of the dormitory and meant to set it on fire. Before I could effect this auto-da-fe, which was intended solely to reduce packing labors and those attendant labors at the other end, which are not simply unpacking labors but tasks of decision bearing on being itself--where to put this? Where that? Do I need these books regularly? There's only five plates. What sixth guest may I never invite?--a fellow came up and said he'd like to buy my drafting table (for a case of beer [$6.581, he did [table$298]); another got my hydraulic drawing stool ($6.58 for $342). A crowd gathered and drank the two cases of beer and absorbed everything I owned and sent me off hail and well met with my toothbrush in my oxford-cloth pocket, whistling those Henry Miller blues.

I was not the happiest man alive, but I was not far from it.

I broke into my girlfriend's apartment and worked all afternoon on Julia Child recipes, with more vigor jumping around to local radio rock-and-roll than even Julia on television, but drinking wine and cutting myself all the same, perfecting thereby my more sanguine meuniere. I served Sheila seven subtle foods of the French cuisine and took my leave of her. I said something embarrassing to her. If you sing "Love Me Two Times" and "Light My Fire" all afternoon drinking all the Gallo without Jim Morrison's erection and scrutinizing when the chicken breast is springy and when it is not, you may deliver yourself of an embarrassing mot injuste. I said to poor Sheila, "Had I gone to another school, I might have met . . . your wilder, worse sister." I meant by this that had I gone to Boston I'd have met a liturgical militant who scared me with things I don't know about, but I had, as a Clemson Tiger, met nice white-Jewish Sheila instead, who never did anything to me bad and whom I therefore was finally made too nervous by to hang around letting her take it--take all my inarticulate foggy incomprehension not directed at her or at anyone but simply swinging 360 degrees from a lofty tower in the unsympathetic goy fog. You see why I said only what I said to Sheila. She slid the door chain off gravely for me, and suddenly I had my toothbrush in the hall and I felt a little bad and a little real good.

I emerged onto a perfectly still, wet, wee-hour lawn, unlike Ted Bundy, not needing to run.

How I wish that I were a historian of The South. What not give for the opportunity to sit before documentary cameras in my cozy, musty Memphis study and relate lugubrious apocrypha about Rebel valor, with modest little tears in my wide delta face. There were twenty or so Union soldiers who had captured this one Southern boy, and they said, Why are you fighting us? He was not the sort, they could surmise, to be concerned with money or slavery. Because y'all are down heah, he says to them. Which I think is a pretty good reason. "Custer, a cap'n at the tiyeum," rode out into the Pickaninny River and "sat his horse and tunned and said, This is how deep it is, Gen'el.'" What not give?

But I am not a historian of The South. I am arguably his worst enemy. The weepy little sons of bitches. My father is better company than a person who believes in The South. I should say he believes in where he is, it happens to be The South. He does not apotheosize The Lost World, confident of discovering yet in it the last baby Confederate dinosaur alive. Or tell you about it--how the baby Confederate dinosaur they spotted could not be captured--with that tear in his eye. I am not a historian-archaeologist of The South, I am an architect of no distinction who has recently tried to bum his T square and not managed that. I bode to build no buildings. There are architects whose expertise lies in tearing them down.

The Wawer, the Wawer. They are right in longing for the Wawer, but they make a mistake in wanting the historical one: what we need is a new one, right here on this hallowed ground. Napalm on malls, uncontrollable Pampers looting. Can you imagine Ho Chi Minh offering to bomb us back into the Stone Age? His generals around the table slowly begin to chuckle. They may well have sufficient ordnance in the room.

After I got my useless degree and gave pointless pain to a good girl, I decided it was time to go home.

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