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This collection of essays is the first book from Monroe, Louisiana-based writer William Caverlee. Caverlee is a contributing writer to the Oxford American, where many of these essays first appeared, who has also published in the Christian Science Monitor, the Cimarron Review, the Florida Review, and Louisiana Literature.
From the essay “Bullets and Bodies”
About an hour’s drive from the room where I am writing is the Bonnie and Clyde ambush site—a small rise on Louisiana Highway 154, off Interstate 20, between Gibsland and Sailes. In 1934, as every moviegoer knows, a squad of six earnest and determined lawmen fired a hundred and thirty rounds into the two outlaws, killing them in the front seat of their Ford V-8—not separately as in the movie version, with Warren Beatty standing outside the car eating a pear, but together, in the front seat, in cold blood (no Miranda rights in 1934). The two Texans were due for a killing, being thugs and murderers on the Dillinger scale. Bonnie had even predicted such an outcome in her poetry.
From the essay “The Best Southern Short Story Ever?”
Without ever leaving her hide-out in Milledgeville, Georgia, Flannery O’Connor knew all there was to know about the two-lane, dirt and blacktop Southern roads of the 1950s—with their junkyards and tourist courts, gravel pits and pine trees that pressed at the edges of the road. She knew the slogans of the Burma Shave signs, knew the names of barbecue joints and the chicken baskets on their menus. She also knew a backwoods American cadence and vocabulary you’d think was limited to cops, truckers, runaway teens, and patrons of the Teardrop Inn, where at midnight somebody could always be counted on to go out to a pickup truck and come back with a shotgun. She was a virtuoso mimic, and she assimilated whole populations of American sounds and voices, and then offered them back to us from time to time in her small fictional detonations, one of which she named, in 1953, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”
William Caverlee’s writing reminds us that there is always a need for insightful, probing, and eloquent criticism—even when talking about works we think we know. Take William Faulkner’s "The Sound and the Fury." Caverlee’s playful approach to this “improbable novel” and his brisk, lucid insight into Faulkner’s “ridiculous syntax . . . obsessions, oddities . . . and lofty talk of honor, family, the past” suddenly render Faulkner a little more understandable or understandable in a fresh way—no mean feat.
In taking on another well-known work of Southern literature, Flannery O’Connor’s 1953 “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Caverlee does the same thing he did with the Faulkner book—he ponders the familiar with so much fresh verve and intelligence that he will likely prompt readers to quickly revisit this well-worn masterpiece.
Caverlee is a writer of vast enthusiasms and range. His general essays, which cover everything from the assassination of Bonnie and Clyde to the mundane evolution of the staple, are as thoughtfully delightful as his literary criticism. It just so happens that I’m a sucker for penetrating and well-written literary criticism. I’ve learned that there’s something oddly enduring about that kind of literary criticism: it can last as long as the literature it examines, and it can even take on the name of literature itself.
Marc Smirnoff, editor
"The Oxford American"
Book Publisher: University of Lousiana Press
No. of Pages: 214