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Still in Print

The Southern Novel Today

Jan Nordby Gretlund

Publication Year: 2013

In Still in Print, eighteen Southern novels published since 1997 fall under the careful scrutiny of an international cast of accomplished literary critics to identify the very best of recent writings in the genre. These essays highlight the praiseworthy efforts of a pantheon of novelists celebrating and challenging regionality, unearthing manifestations of the past in the present, and looking to the future with wit and healthy skepticism. Organized around shared themes of history, place, humor, and malaise, the novels discussed here interrogate Southern culture and explore the region's promise for the future. Four novels reconsider the Civil War and its aftermath as Charles Frazier, Kaye Gibbons, Josephine Humphreys, and Pam Durban revisit the past and add fresh insights to contemporary discussions of race and gender through their excursions into history. The novels by Steve Yarbrough, Larry Brown, Chris Offutt, Barry Hannah, and James Lee Burke demonstrate a keen sense of place, rooted in a South marked by fundamentalism, poverty, violence, and rampant prejudice but still capable of promise for some unseen future. The comic fiction of George Singleton, Clyde Edgerton, James Wilcox, Donald Harington, and Lewis Nordan shows how Southern humor still encompasses customs and speech reflected in concrete places. Ron Rash, Richard Ford, and Cormac McCarthy probe the depths of human existence, often with disturbing results, as they write about protagonists cut off from their own humanity and desperate to reconnect with the human race. Diverse in content but unified in genre, these particular novels have been nominated by the contributors to Still in Print for long-term survival as among the best modern representations of the Southern novel.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-ix

We are eighteen experienced critics of southern literature with many publications behind us. Most of us are southerners, and six of us are Europeans. We are admirers of the great writers of the South and teach the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Madison Jones, Alice Walker, and Lee Smith—in ...

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Introduction: A Time of Excellence in Southern Fiction

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pp. 1-16

“The writer learns, perhaps more quickly than the reader, to be humble in the face of what-is. What-is is all he has to do with; the concrete is his medium; and he will realize eventually that fiction can transcend its limitations only by staying within them” (Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners,146). ...

Part I A Sense of History

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Charles Frazier: Cold Mountain

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pp. 19-28

For several decades now numerous critics have announced the death of the novel; critical theorists have declared the writer himself irrelevant, if not defunct; and members of the New Southern Studies movement have suggested that not only is southern literature at an end, but the South itself never really existed, except in the fevered imaginations of New Critics, Agrarians, and ...

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Josephine Humphreys: Nowhere Else on Earth

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pp. 29-42

On the first page of Josephine Humphreys’s fourth novel, the so-called Queen of Scuffletown raises a question: What is history? And with her question she joins a long line of southern writers and characters who take upon themselves the burden of the past and offer up their interpretations of this elusive subject. In her fiction Josephine Humphreys has sought to dream up her own ...

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Kaye Gibbons: On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon

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pp. 43-57

Kaye Gibbons was born Bertha Kaye Batts on May 5, 1960, into the small community of Bend of the River in Nash County, North Carolina. By her own account she survived a childhood children should not have to endure. The financial ups and downs that beset the farming family were only its most obvious challenge. In 1970, when she was ten years old, her mother, Alice, committed suicide. ...

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Pam Durban: So Far Back

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pp. 58-72

The author was born Rosa Palmer Durban in Aiken, South Carolina, on March 4, 1947, the daughter of Frampton Wyman Durban, a real-estate appraiser, and Maria Hertwig. The writer grew up in Aiken, where her family has lived for generations. In the family tradition she attended a Catholic grade school, St. Mary Help of Christians. She left her hometown to attend the University of ...

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Percival Everett: Erasure

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pp. 73-87

Percival Everett is among South Carolina’s most acclaimed literary sons. The author of seventeen novels, three collections of short stories, two books of poetry, and a children’s book, Everett is a writer whose style and interests continue to evolve in ways that resist categorization. Because he has made his adult life outside of the South and written rarely and indirectly about the region ...

Part II A Sense of Place

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Steve Yarbrough: The Oxygen Man

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pp. 91-104

Steve Yarbrough was born in Indianola, Mississippi, on August 29, 1956, the son of John and Earlene Yarbrough. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1979 and his master’s degree in 1981, both in En glish from the University of Mississippi, he completed his master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Arkansas in 1984. He then taught at Virginia Tech from 1984 to ...

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Larry Brown: Fay

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pp. 105-118

Larry Brown (1951–2004) is arguably the most outstanding member of that group of contemporary southern writers for whom filmmaker Gary Hawkins coined the descriptive term “rough south.” Among them, besides Brown, are Chris Offutt, Tim McLaurin, Dorothy Allison, and William Gay. Of this group, with the exception of William Gay, Larry Brown seems most authentic ...

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Chris Offutt: The Good Brother

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pp. 119-134

Much of what is known of Chris Offutt has Chris Offutt as its source, via memoirs, interviews, and biographical sketches. The following brief biographical information is indebted to much of that material. Offutt was born in Kentucky on August 24, 1958, and grew up in Haldeman, a small Rowan County town in Appalachia that had clay mining as its main source of jobs and income. ...

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Barry Hannah: Yonder Stands Your Orphan

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pp. 135-147

Since the early 1970s Barry Hannah has been widely recognized as one of the liveliest and most provocative of writers active on the southern scene. From his first novel, Geronimo Rex (1972), to his most recent, Yonder Stands Your Orphan (2001), Hannah’s edgy, staccato style has been distinctive. His narratives take sharp turns at a turbo-charged pace, often many on a page, and it takes a reader ...

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James Lee Burke: Crusader's Cross

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pp. 148-162

James Lee Burke is probably the best of all American crime writers on the contemporary scene, and since so many of his best books challenge the borders and limits of the genre, he is also among the best fiction writers in the United States today. Born in 1936 in Houston, Texas, he now lives in New Iberia, Louisiana, and Missoula, Montana. ...

Part III A Sense of Humor

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George Singleton: Work Shirts for Madmen

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pp. 165-173

George Singleton was born in 1958 in Anaheim, California. When he was seven, his family moved to Greenwood, South Carolina, where he grew up. He attended schools in Greenwood, which serve as setting for many of his short stories and his novel, called Novel. In 1980 Singleton received his undergraduate degree from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, with a major ...

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Clyde Edgerton: The Bible Salesman

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pp. 174-188

On May 14, 1978, Clyde Edgerton, a thirty-four-year-old professor of education at a Baptist college in North Carolina, wrote in his journal, “Tomorrow . . . I would like to start being a writer” (Hennis 1993, 116). He had been moved to this resolution by seeing Eudora Welty read one of her stories on public television. In view of the novels Edgerton has written while making good on that ...

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James Wilcox: Heavenly Days

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pp. 189-202

With the 2003 publication of Heavenly Days, James Wilcox returned South from a three-novel hiatus in New York City. The move followed Wilcox’s own migration southward from New York City, where he had lived for nearly three decades, to teach creative writing at Mississippi State University and, later, Louisiana State University. In returning South, Wilcox also returned to one of ...

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Donald Harington: Enduring

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pp. 203-215

For more than forty years Arkansas writer Donald Harington has been searching in his fiction for a state of perpetuity. Born in Little Rock in 1935, Harington spent summers with his mother’s parents in the small town of Drakes Creek, near Fayetteville, where they owned a country store. At the age of twelve he contracted meningococcal meningitis and lost most of his hearing. ...

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Lewis Nordan: Lightning Song

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pp. 216-230

Lewis Nordan, born in 1939, spent his childhood years in the small Mississippi town of Itta Bena, only a few miles from Money, the town that entered history as the place where Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old African American who wolf whistled at a white woman, was brutally killed. Many years later Nordan dared to grasp this event from a comic viewpoint in Wolf Whistle (1993). Reviewers across the ethnic spectrum ..

Part IV A Sense of Malaise

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Ron Rash: One Foot in Eden

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pp. 233-247

South Carolina poet, short-story writer, and novelist Ron Rash (born 1953) is one of the new southern writers whose work is firmly situated in the southern tradition. Rash’s rural Appalachia characters represent a marginal South in the twenty-first century, and their deep attachment to the land suggests a feeling of belonging that is lost in the New South. Rash hails from the southern ...

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Richard Ford: The Lay of the Land

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pp. 248-259

Richard Ford’s trilogy about a man’s life in New Jersey joins a number of other recent novels by southern writers who have chosen to set their work outside the South. Unlike southern writers of previous generations, who almost always set their work in the small-town or rural South, Ford and many other contemporary southern writers are traveling further afield, clearly less bound to the ...

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Cormac McCarthy: The Road

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pp. 260-274

The Road is Cormac McCarthy’s tenth novel. It is also the first of his novels to be met with almost unanimous critical acclaim. Those who were less than impressed with his ninth novel, No Country for Old Men, have greeted it with something pretty close to relief. Others—and these are so far in the majority among critics of The Road—have focused their attention, and their admiration, ...


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pp. 275-279


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pp. 281-285

E-ISBN-13: 9781611172645
Print-ISBN-13: 9781570039447

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2013