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for the pain." What he finds is "strength and liveliness" in a family who were "not perhaps noble in origin but . . . were—and are—in spirit." He has led us to this point in a strong and lively book. The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy Edited byJay Toison Center for Documentary Studies in Association with W. W Norton, 1997 310 pp. Cloth, $27.50 Reviewed by Fred Hobson, Lineberger Professor in the Humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and coeditor of the Southern UteraryJournal. His latest book is Mencken: A Ufe. Stories of close friendships abound in American literature—Hawthorne and Melville, Mark Twain and William Dean Howells, Dreiser and Mencken—but few such friendships began so early in life as that between the novelist Walker Percy and the novelist-historian Shelby Foote. They met when both were fourteen , shortly after Percy came to Greenville, Mississippi, after the suicide of his father in Birmingham, Alabama. Walker came to Greenville to live with his father 's cousin, William Alexander Percy, poet, lawyer, and later author of one of the most notable ofsouthern autobiographies, Lanterns on theLevee (1 941 ). "Uncle Will," who soon adopted Walker and his two brothers, thought Shelby—also fatherless and, like Walker, somewhat introspective—could introduce Walker to Greenville. Theirs was to be a friendship of sixty years, the closest friendship either would have, but it was a friendship that took curious turns. Both Walker and Shelby attended the University of North Carolina, but afterwards, they took, at first, different paths. After service in World War II, Foote took seriously to the business of letters. Percy, on the other hand, took a medical degree at Columbia and turned to serious reading and writing only after developing tuberculosis. Spending most of World War II in sanitariums, he began to read Heidegger, Kierkegaard , Gabriel Marcel, Sartre, and Camus and then began his own quest for literary success. Foote got there first—with the publication of a novel, Tournament, in 1948— 84 Reviews and during the next thirteen years, as Percy struggled unsuccessfully to publish his fiction, Foote wrote and published several other novels. As the published writer of the two, he was also the mentor in his letters to Percy. In 1961 , however , with the publication of The Moviegoer, Percy suddenly eclipsed him. Winning the National Book Award for that novel, Percy proceeded over the next quarter century to write five more novels, as well as social and cultural commentary and books on semiotics, that received a great deal ofattention. While Foote wrote in relative obscurity, Percy became one of the notable American writers of his generation , and, along with Eudora Welty, William Styron, and Ralph Ellison, one of the leading southern writers ofhis time. Foote's three-volume history ofthe Civil War, a work which took some twenty years to research and write and wound up containing a million and a halfwords, was well-respected but not widely read, at least not at first. "Historians wont [sic] read it because it lacks footnotes," Foote wrote Percy, "and liberal arts professors wont [sic] read it because it's history." Foote waited anxiously for announcements of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer—but won neither. As concerns comparative reputations, the Percy-Foote relationship was to take one more curious turn—although, for Percy, posthumously. The Civil War may not have won Foote as many readers as he wanted, but it did attract the attention ofKen Burns when he was planning his film series on the Civil War. With the airing ofthat series, a little more than a year after Percy's death, Foote gained a great deal of recognition as the courdy, charming "talking head" of The Civil War. He had finally become famous—more famous than Walker Percy had ever been. Percy, a keen student ofthe power oftelevision, would have appreciated the fact. Such was the rhythm and pace of the Percy-Foote relationship as an outsider might view it, but such matters as fame and reputation did not seem to affect their exchanges with each other. The correspondence collected here, beginning in 1948, shows Foote as a supremely confident figure even when...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 84-87
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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