Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Still more evidence that I need to give Faulkner another chance

now finished: Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron
now reading: Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

The word, I believe, is "wow."

My boy Styron is a fantastic writer, compelling storyteller, deep thinker, and furthermore, I think he was a really insightful and beautiful person! That part kind of snuck up on me at the end of the book, but this man was a thinker and a good soul. I want to be his friend!

There are a whole bunch of things I liked, but I will say one of the things I keep thinking about as I reflect is that this is exactly the kind of book I'd been hoping to find when I embarked upon this project. I wasn't looking for another War and Peace, Infinite Jest, or Moby Dick -- you know, something that I knew would be Great. And I certainly wasn't looking for the likes of Cynthia Ozick's The Puttermesser Papers -- something I'd have to continue to wonder why anyone found it great. I was looking to just read good books, and especially to be delighted to have finally read authors I'd neglected far too long. The difference between Styron and the likes of Umberto Eco and Truman Capote is that I've heard SO MUCH about The Name of the Rose and In Cold Blood, but Styron is a bit less mainstream, somehow. Not that that matters. I don't know, I can't explain it. Let's just say that 'S' = success!

Styron makes me think about a few things I've previously considered. One is place as it relates to writing. I often wonder how much my own personal geography comes out in my writing; I don't see myself as a Tony Hillerman/Edward Abbey/Terry Tempest Williams type in my Southwesternness, but maybe I am? Then again, I have been out of Arizona almost as long as I was there. But then again again, doesn't it always stick with me?

The South has long had an obviously strong, notable, controversial sense of place and self in the U.S., not to mention a slew of amazing writers. In the last part of Lie Down in Darkness the action moves to New York and what happens to Peyton there. Now, if I have not yet been clear on this point, I relate to the tragic figure of Peyton. I've babbled about her father Milton, but Peyton is really where it's at. After all, she has to suffer the effects of her totally screwed up parents. It was in her wedding and in the New York pages I really came to appreciate how much like her I could be. And, I like how Styron via Peyton calls out the New Yorkers on their totally insular New Yorkerness, asking them why they have to be so bigoted against the South and totally closed to the idea that it could rise from its dark and mighty problems, which are still quite recent, into a position of strong and mighty progress.

Styron matter-of-factly calls New York (ers) "provincial and myopic." This caused me to cheer, to pretty much weep with joy.

So, geography, self, progress, and how they interrelate -- we get all this, plus soap operaesque drama and beautiful descriptions. What's not to love?

I am definitely eager to read more Styron. Meanwhile, of course, I'm on 'T' and am happily back in that other region of the world, besides the U.S. South, that has produced ridiculous amounts of amazing writers: Russia.

Which means I'm back to that old familiar problem of really wanting to learn Russian, that I may read some of the world's most amazing literature in the original language. This just might be the year I embark upon that goal.


Kim Diaz said...

I took a lit course on Southern Women Writers once. I took it in the South. I highly recommend Flannery O'Connor, especially The Complete Stories. I remember the professor saying every person should own a copy of that book. Also her essay collection Mystery and Manners.

linda said...

That's awesome. I like the Flannery I've read; you're right that I should read more. Why are they so good??? Man, I really want to learn Russian. I already speak Southern.