- Essays: On The Road (And A Little Off)



Rockvale TN, March 17, 2012 - -
A few weeks back I was reading an article in one a them hightone literary magazines that occasionally come to my house, maybe the Sun or the Oxford American, I forget. Anyway the article was lauding the virtues of someone who is apparently regarded by the literati as a truly great "Southern author", whatever that is. Well, I gotta confess that despite the aforementioned magazine subscriptions and an actual college semi-education with emphasis on English I had never heard of the guy.
So naturally I turned to Amazon and looked up his first novel, which had won the Faulkner Best First Novel Prize shortly after it came out, and which was the one most raved about in the article.
Now this guy was a Rhodes scholar, went off to Oxford, I think it was, came back, won a chair at Duke and the Faulkner prize.
Being lucky enough to have found it on Amazon for a penny plus postage I was very happy to dig into it when it came. And law! the suppleness of the phrases the twists and turning backs of the sentences the North Carolina countryside captured in timeless accuracy the intricate play of the voice in my imagination...all these were a rushing something to behold. No wonder he got the Faulkner.
The only thing was, basically nothing extraordinary happened. Maybe I'm just being Southern and the things that did happen in this book were so mundane down here as to seem not worth writing about, although to a Yankee perhaps they would. Nothing extraordinary happened but it was related in the absolute purity of tone so as to be - except for that part about nothing happening - on a par with "To Kill a Mockingbird".
Now Southern writers do tend to borrow heavily from each other; Tom Wolfe lifted a whole section of Robert Penn Warren's "A Place to Come To" for his "A Man of Parts", and he knows it as well as I. But to reward a man for having written flawlessly about not very much seems a little TOO literary, at least to me. The other thing that bugged me, especially after I had read this masterwork, was this fellow's reported comment in regard to "One Hundred Years of Solitude", about which he said, "too many butterflies". Guy shoulda put some butterflies in HIS book.