I grew up in a Eudora Welty novel. When I travel north or west, it is not unusual for people to comment on my “southerness.” As I am penning this narrative, I am enjoying a hunk of corn bread. I love the South and am firmly ensconced in its ethos. However, surprisingly, I am not a fan of southern literature. I have devoured and reread Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol and Chekhov, but I cannot sink myself into the macabre abyss of “southern literature.”
Several times I have read the first 40-50 pages of “As I Lay Dying,” and could not go on. The DVD was in the New Releases section of the video store Sunday night, so here was my chance to be “literate” in a venue to which I feel embarrassment and guilt that I am so underwhelmed. While I can acknowledge Faulkner’s genius, I simply don’t like reading him. It hurts and makes me feel creepy. Thomas Wolfe, Walker Percy, Pat Conroy all bore me. I can’t help it. Perhaps because he is a fellow Tidewater Virginian, I like William Styron, and Peter Taylor’s “Summons To Memphis” is a great book. Yet, most of what has been acclaimed as “great,” depresses me. Perhaps these writings hit too close to home, and I feel trapped and can’t wait to “get out of the book.”
I don’t know the grotesque, dark South. My southern sensibilities are rooted in happiness, laughter and endearing friendships. There is an underlying social connectedness that binds us to one another. I like good manners, grace, civility and humility (although I have never been accused of being humble, it is a good virtue in others). Tradition, pretty girls, soft voices and beach music. One cannot be thoughtful or even smart without recognizing the frailty of the human soul and our purpose in this world. Southerners wear their Christianity because they have thought and pondered. Perhaps this makes them nicer and more pleasant to be around? Ham biscuits, family, the smell of good bourbon, college football, the “land.”
The South conjures up lots of images; none of them are particularly Faulknerian to me.