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Pattern Of A Man & Other Stories by JAMES STILL 199 pp. Lexington, Ky.: Gnomon Press $9.50; paper $5.00 A Review by DEAN CADLE In 1940 James Still published a novel, River of Earth, that Time magazine called "a work of art," and the following year a collection of stories, On Troublesome Creek, that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings described as "vital, beautiful, heart-breaking, and heart-warmingly funny." The stories in Still's new collection have the same settings—the mining camps and the hillside farms of eastern Kentucky—the same poor, proud, honest, and resilient characters, and are told with a stylistic skill that superimposes the anonymous, ageless voice of oral tales and ballads on the presence of the author-narrator. These eleven stories are not only saddelightful reading but could serve as instructions on how good stories are written. Still has included detailed revisions of three early stories, including the first one he wrote, "The Scrape." A comparison with the earlier versions is an encouraging—and deceptive —display of the writer at work. While the two-page monologue "Encounter on Kegg Branch" is a story, it also suggests that Still's longer stories may have begun as self-contained units this size. It is the narrator's account of the woes that plague an upright man in his endeavors to throw off one woman and take on another. Tell Adam Claiborne, he says, "that me and that woman has done quit each other and living apart and I want him to see her and learn what she's got to talk about . . . Upon my honor, they don't know what day it is until the school bus runs. The whole drove, they don't know dirt from goose manure." Three of the stories are artistically superior to any of Still's previous work. In "Mrs. Razor," the story of six-year-old Elvy who is convinced that she is married to a no-good man who has abandoned her and her three children, Still has accomplished in fifteen hundred words the moving and amazing feat of capturing the wonderful, sometimes horrifying, country of fantasy to which most children for a time swear allegiance . "Pattern of A Man" is the epistolary confession of the trials and tribulations of a delightfully conniving campaigner for the office of county jailer against a field of forty-one men and a woman. In "A Ride on the Short Dog" the reader rushes so gleefully through a series of comical scenes and teen-age high jinks that he reads the last word before realizing that whiffs of violence interlocking the humor make the manslaughter at the end seem inevitable. Still is both poet and dramatist in his precise use of language and in the visual clarity with which he creates scenes and develops characters. Most of his stories read like mini-plays that could be transferred to the stage with a minimum of directives, for the narrative is continually 82 pushed forward by credible action and by dialogue designed more for hearing than for silent reading. Somewhat in the manner of a magician Still often seems furiously busy with one hand entertaining the audience with anecdotes , folklore, and colorful mountain dialogue while with the other hand he is unobtrusively shaping incidents, bridgingin poetic interludes, and posting subtle guides in the form of cues, warnings, and foreshadowings that direct the story toward his intended climax. Still is a writer of restricted scenes, valid desperations, and victories that seem small reward for all the patience and hurt they exact; but his more successful stories echo beyond the last word to a size commensurate with the capacity of the reader to understand and interpret. They reflect a compassion, insight, and objectivity remindful of Katherine Anne Porter ("The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," "The Downward Path to Wisdom" ) and Bernard MaIamud ("The Loan," "The Magic Barrel"). Still discovered early a clue to individuality to which many writers are color-blind and that many others by-pass in their haste: Simplicity without naivete, sentimentality, or redundancy. He has taught himself discipline . He was born with a sense of gentle humor. A native of northern Alabama, Still has lived for over forty...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5081
Print ISSN
0363-2318
Pages
pp. 82-83
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-08
Open Access
N
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