Friday, April 6, 2012

Stories from the Delta (lots of them)

Book: Mississippi Writers Reflections of Childhood and Youth Volume 1: Fiction
Authors: various
Published: 1985 (University Press of Mississippi)
Pages: 753 (of story)
I took a photo at this angle because I wanted to show how thick this mamajama is.

It’s enormous and probably contains at least a paragraph from every Mississippi writer who sold over ten copies before 1985. Most of these overtly refer to the specific state and/or river; only a little over half are actually about childhood or youth, which I found weird considering what the series is called. A lot dealt in Southern dialect; a lot dealt with race, poverty, and collision of the two. A few dealt with war and its weary broken causes.
Everyone writes well in here but it honestly blends together until I got lost in the cotton fields and accidentally tracked mud from the delta into white ladies’ tea rooms while trying to find my coon dog. That’s not me making fun of anything except how much like one big giant meandering journey this read like.
A couple favorites did stand out: Faulker, “Barn Burning,” for his impressionistic style of repetition and stream-of-consciousness which was much easier to follow and therefore more elegant than The Sound and the Fury. (I think everything, maybe even Ulysses and David Foster Wallace’s footnotes, are easier to read than The Sound and the Fury.) Elizabeth Spencer’s “A Southern Landscape” for her country nostalgia turned sharply against itself. Mildred Taylor’s excerpt from Roll of Thunder Hear Me Cry for capturing helpless fury of a fourth grader, Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.” for its pitch-perfect overly indignant voice, Tennessee Williams’s “Portrait of a Girl in Glass” for its neat tragic twist.
I feel half kin, half stranger to these writers. Technically, I’m part of their long, complicated, sweaty history of Southern writers, seeing as how I’ve never lived anywhere but a couple states over and almost as far down. But I’ve never felt Southern, and I don’t write about Southern things, which may just mean I should work on my descriptions more but mostly makes me read this like a field guide to my own people.

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