A local book club gave me a lovely assignment.
The organizer of the June meeting said her group wanted to read Southern writers, and she asked for a list of 12 novels, short stories or essays.
The problem, of course, was in the narrowing. I suggested these:
1. Reynolds Price’s first novel, “A Long and Happy Life,” set in rural northeast North Carolina about Rosacoke Mustian’s love for the elusive, motorcycle-riding Wesley Beavers.
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2. Josephine Humphreys’ first novel, “Dreams of Sleep,” filled with her remarkable insights as she enters the minds of three Charleston women, one of whom suspects her husband of infidelity.
3. James Dickey’s astonishing long poem, “Falling,” enters the mind of a stewardess who is falling slow motion from a plane over Kansas. Another side of the man’s brain who wrote the novel, “Deliverance.”
4. Lee Smith’s “Dimestore,” a memoir of growing up. She deliciously dissects the Southerner’s preoccupation with family dynamics.
5. Kaye Gibbons’s first novel, “Ellen Foster,” in my opinion her best, about an orphan’s touching quest to belong.
6. Eudora Welty’s short story, “The Worn Path.” An old grandmother’s fable-like journey into town for medicine for a grandson.
7. Flannery O’Connor’s masterpiece of a short story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” set in Georgia, is sprinkled with wicked digs about the Southerner’s two-faced emphasis on “courtesy.”
8. Kim Church’s novel, “Byrd,” set in Raleigh and Greensboro. A young woman longs for the son she surrendered for adoption.
9. Clyde Edgerton’s hilarious short novel, “Raney.” A newly-married couple – a Baptist and an Episcopalian – try to comprehend each other’s cultural differences.
10. Doris Betts’s short story, “The Ugliest Pilgrim.” Violet Karl catches a bus in Spruce Pine, N.C., for Tulsa, in hopes that a TV evangelist will heal her facial scar.
11. Travis Mulhouser’s short novel, “Sweet Girl,” is set in Michigan (Mulhouser lives in Durham) among meth users but laced with Southern themes of family and dysfunction.
12. “The Book of Colors,” by Raymond Barfield. A “mixed,” pregnant 19-year-old attempts to organize her life and her self in a row house by the Memphis railroad tracks.
But what about Faulkner, Walker Percy and Pat Conroy? asked the organizer. OK, I said. How about Percy’s short essay, “Bourbon Neat,” which includes a scene from a from a 1935 football game between Duke and Carolina. Percy is drinking bourbon and admiring his beautfiul blind date. “Her clothes are the color of fall leaves and her face turns up like a flower.”
There are dozens more, of course. I’ll be back someday soon with a different list.