- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
John FlesherThese stories about life...about people who could live anywhere but are firmly rooted in the soil of America's forever fascinating South.
An honest look at the South
In this year's preface, Tony Earley writes, "It is easy to make up characters who live in double-wide mobile homes, wear beehive hairdos and feed caps, never put a g on the end of a participle, have sex with their cousins, voted for George Wallace, who squint and spit whenever an out-of-towner uses a polysyllabic word; who aspire only to own a bass boat, scare a Yankee, have sex with their cousins again, burn a cross, eat something fried, speak in ...
An honest look at the South
In this year's preface, Tony Earley writes, "It is easy to make up characters who live in double-wide mobile homes, wear beehive hairdos and feed caps, never put a g on the end of a participle, have sex with their cousins, voted for George Wallace, who squint and spit whenever an out-of-towner uses a polysyllabic word; who aspire only to own a bass boat, scare a Yankee, have sex with their cousins again, burn a cross, eat something fried, speak in tongues, do anything butt nekkid...What is difficult is to take the poor, the uneducated, the superstitious, the backward, the redneck, the 'trailer trash,' and make them real human beings, with hopes and dreams and aspirations as real and valid, and as worthy of our fair consideration, as any Cheeverian Westchester County housewife."
We couldn't agree more. Just as Tony Earley makes a plea for honest writing by challenging the stereotypes that wend their way through Southern literature, so Shannon Ravenel picks twenty singular writers who tell honest stories. Whether it's the Edgar-winning story of three orphaned brothers or the young girl who ends up in a strange motel room with a man she hardly knows or the old man who kills his son, every story here tells the honest truth about the South in unforgettable ways.
The Old South of decaying mansions, men in seersucker, and women in lace is well recalled in first-rate tales by Charles East ("Pavane for a Dead Princess"), who meditates on the phenomenon of elderly ladies and their young male companions; by Pam Durban ("Gravity"), who beautifully records the decline of a once- distinguished Charleston family; and by Ellen Douglas ("Julia and Nellie"), who offers a tale of friendship transcending serious religious conflict. The rural and working-class South provides its own meaning and wistfulness: In Judy Troy's "Ramone," a young girl relocates to the small Texas town where her stepfather's father lies dying; in Patricia Elam Ruff's moving and elegiac "The Taxi Ride," an elderly woman, tired but happy in her long marriage, finds a welcome friend in a courtly cab-driver; in Janice Daugharty's "Along a Wider River," a former sharecropper watches his old boss fumble and die while fishing; and in Rhian Margaret Ellis's "Every Building Wants to Fall," a fatherless girl, feeling powerless and hopeless as well, discovers a perverse strength in causing her friend's epileptic seizures. Some inspired low comedy (and more class conflict) comes from two familiar experts: Tim Gautreaux's "Little Frogs in a Ditch" is a droll tale concerning a no-account loser who sells common roof pigeons as homing pigeons; and Lee Smith's unsparing "Native Daughter" turns on the conceit of its haughty narrator, a pretty girl from Kentucky who doesn't realize that her clubby male companions consider her easy trash.
Robert Olen Butler's tetchy introduction—with its bristling at the notion of "Southern" fiction—insists on the universality of art, but his fears are misplaced. The superb stories here quietly demonstrate that the universal always resides in the particular.
from the Preface: Letter from Sister-What We Learned at the P.O.
I have a theory-perhaps unformed and, without question, unsubstantiated-that most bad Southern writing is descended directly from Eudora Welty's "Why I Live at the P.O." Welty's story smacks of a certain now-familiar sensibility, rife with caricature, overstated eccentricity, and broadly drawn humor, that has come to represent Southern writing and, through that representation, the South itself.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to read much Southern fiction and not come upon story after story faithfully cut from our landscape and culture, using the template provided by Welty in 1941. The characters in "Why I Live at the P.O." possess the prototypical, colorful Southern names that, in the musical sound of their regional specificity, have come to promise colorful Southern doings: Papa-Daddy, Uncle Rondo, Stella-Rondo, Shirley-T., Sister. They eat green-tomato pickle and, on the Fourth of July, sport about in flesh-colored kimonos while impaired by prescription drugs. They live in Mississippi. They grow long beards and illegitimate children and mismatched sets of breasts.
In delicious, honey-coated accents they utter the delicious, honey-coated statements, void of any real importance, that fall sweetly on the ears of book-buying lovers of stereotype everywhere. "Papa-Daddy," Stella-Rondo says, when she's looking to stir up trouble, "Papa-Daddy! . . . Sister says she fails to understand why you don't cut off your beard." Uncle Rondo, after he has donned Stella-Rondo's flesh-colored kimono and illegally ingested God knows what prescription narcotic (he's a pharmacist), cries, "Sister, get out of my way, I'm poisoned."
So faithfully have the conventions of "Why I Live at the P.O." been copied by succeeding generations of writers, so dominant has the regionally identified literature laid out by the story become, that Welty might well have titled it "How to Exploit the People of the Nation's Poorest Region and Get a Really Big Book Advance." All of which is at least shameful, if not artistically criminal, because "Why I Live at the P.O." is a bona fide work of genius, not only one of the best short stories produced by a Southern writer, but one of the best stories by any writer, anywhere.
The genius of "Why I Live at the P.O." lies not in the story that the narrator, Sister, tells us-which is, without question, broadly told, colorful, eccentric, and side-splittingly funny-but in the story Sister does not know she is telling us. In her hysterical attempt to win us over to her side in a seemingly inconsequential family dispute, Sister inadvertently reveals the emotional and spiritual burdens that she and the members of her family must pull through their lives. Stella-Rondo has been abandoned by a traveling salesman who might or might not be her husband, leaving her to raise a daughter who might or might not be illegitimate. Uncle Rondo is a shell-shocked veteran of World
PREFACE: "Letter from Sister—What we learned at the P.O."
by Tony Earley
Michael Knight, "Birdland"
From THE NEW YORKER
Heather Sellers, "Fla. Boys"
From FIVE POINTS
Clyde Edgerton, "Lunch at the Piccadilly"
From THE CAROLINA QUARTERLY
William Gay, "Those Deep Elm Brown's Ferry Blues"
From THE MISSOURI REVIEW
Richard Bausch, "Missy"
From FIVE POINTS
George Singleton, "Caulk"
Rick DeMarinis, "Borrowed Hearts"
From THE ANTIOCH REVIEW
Wendy Brenner, "The Human Side of Instrumental Transcommunication"
Ingrid Hill, "Pagan Babies"
From THE SOUTHERN REVIEW
Richard Schmitt, "Leaving Venice, Florida"
From MISSISSIPPI REVIEW
Mary Gordon, "Storytelling"
From THE THREEPENNY REVIEW
Mary Clyde, "Krista Had a Treble Clef Rose"
Laura Payne Butler, "Booker T's Coming Home"
From THE DISTILLERY
Michael Erard, "Beyond the Point"
From THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW
Pinckney Benedict, "Miracle Boy"
Kurt Rheinheimer, "Neighborhood"
From THE GREENSBORO REVIEW
Andrew Alexander, "Little Bitty Pretty One"
From MISSISSIPPI REVIEW
Janice Daugharty, "Name of Love"
Tony Earley, "Quill"
Tom Franklin, "Poachers"
From THE TEXAS REVIEW