For over three decades, Reynolds Price has been one of America's most distinguished writers, in a career that has been remarkable both for its virtuosity and for the variety of literary forms he has embraced. Now he shows himself as much a master of the story as he is of the novel, in a volume that presents fifty stories, including two early collections -- The Names and Faces of Heroes and Permanent Errors -- as well as more than two dozen new stories that have never been gathered together before.
In his introduction, Mr. Price explains how, after the publication of his first two collections, he wrote no new stories for almost twenty years. "But once I needed -- for unknown reasons in a new and radically altered life -- to return to the story, it opened before me like a new chance....A collection like this then," he adds, "...will show a writer's preoccupations in ways the novel severely rations (novels are partly made for that purpose -- the release from self, long flights through the Other). John Keats's assertion that 'the excellence of every Art is its intensity' has served as a license and standard for me. From the start my stories were driven by heat -- passion and mystery, often passion for the mystery I've found in particular rooms and spaces and the people they threaten or shelter -- and my general aim is the transfer of a spell of keen witness, perceived by the reader as warranted in character and act."
There is, indeed, much for the reader to "witness" here of passion and mystery, of character and act. And the variety of stories -- many of them set in Reynolds Price's native North Carolina, but a surprising number set in distant parts: Jerusalem in "An Early Christmas," the American Southwest in "Walking Lessons," and a number in Europe -- will astonish even his most devoted readers. In short, The Collected Stories of Reynolds Price is as deeply rewarding a book as any he has yet published.
- Pulitzer Prize
Indisputably one of our most masterly writers, Price ( Kate Vaiden ; Blue Calhoun ) bends to no literary fashion; he writes about unsung, ordinary people, lifting their lives out of anonymity. Of the 50 stories in this third collection of his short fiction, half are newly gathered; the rest come from collections published in 1963 and 1970. Many of the characters in these magical, quietly revelatory, death-obsessed tales are transformed by chance encounters, in settings that include Price's native south but also range throughout the world. "Walking Lessons" concerns a college teacher who comes to terms with his wife's suicide after assisting a dying Navajo woman on her reservation. In "An Early Christmas," a divorced American painter, a lapsed Catholic, sets off to attend Christmas mass in Bethlehem, where he finds a fresh perspective on his life and art through meetings with Palestinian Arabs in the occupied West Bank. The same generosity of spirit and penetrating insight that mark Price's novels infuse these unsparingly honest narratives. His characters grope almost blindly toward redemption, their earned epiphanies lifting them slightly closer to "the mind of God." Everywhere they stumble upon the abyss, whether as a tourist at the Dachau concentration camp ("A Fool's Education"); a man who kidnaps his granddaughter ("Toward Home"); or the (perhaps autobiographical) survivor of four spinal surgery operations steeled by the memory of a long dead cousin ("The Golden Child.") In nearly every story, Price's unflinching celebrations of life and death cut to the bone.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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February 02, 2004
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Excerpt from Collected Stories of Reynolds Price by Reynolds Price
Chapter 1 FULL DAYEarly afternoon in the midst of fall; but the sun was behind him, raw-egg streaks of speedy light from a ball-sized furnace in a white sky. Buck even skewed his rearview mirror to dodge the hot glare that would only be natural three hours from now.Am I nodding off?He thought he should maybe pull to the shoulder and rest for ten minutes. No, he'd yet to eat; his breakfast biscuit was thinning out. One more call; then he'd push on home, be there by dark. But he took the next sharp bend in the road; and damn, the light was still pouring at him, redder now.Buck shrugged in his mind and thought of a favorite fact of his boyhood -- how he'd searched old papers and books of his father's for any word on the great Krakatoa volcanic eruption in 1883. He'd heard about it years later in school -- how an entire island went up that August in the grandest blast yet known to man. The sea for miles was coated with powdered rock so thick that ships couldn't move. And for more than a year, sunsets everywhere on Earth were reddened by millions of tons of airborne dust. Buck's mother would tell him, each time he asked, that the night before her wedding in 1884, the sunset scared her worse than his father did.Like boys in general, he'd consumed disasters of all shapes and sizes but only from books and the silent movies of his childhood. Otherwise he often thought of himself as an average tame fish, safe in his tank. He'd missed the First War by only a month and was several years too old at Pearl Harbor; so even now, at fifty-three, he'd never witnessed anything worse than a simple crossroads collision, one death with very little blood. He suddenly saw how the light this afternoon was similar to that, though hadn't he watched the wreck in springtime? Early April maybe -- surely dogwood was blooming.Buck had sat at the Stop sign in what felt like a globe of silence and watched, slow-motion, as an old man plowed his toy Model A broadside into a gasoline truck, which failed to explode. Buck had got out and joined the young truckdriver in trying to ease the trapped old man (a country doctor, named Burton Vass, crushed by the steering wheel). Awful looking as he was, pinned into the seat, Dr. Vass wouldn't hear of their trying to move him till an ambulance came. But a good ten minutes before it appeared, the doctor actually grinned at their eyes. Then he said "I'm leaving" and left for good. So yes, Buck was maybe a fish in a tank.Whose tank?he wondered. But since he mostly thought about God in his prayers at night, he dropped the question now. God knew, he spent his life in a tank, this Chrysler gunboat, working to bring electric ease to country wives -- stoves, steam irons, washers, freezers, fans.He turned the mirror down again and tried the sun. It was now even stranger; and the leaves, that had only begun to die, were individually pelted by light till they shivered and flashed. Buck slowed and pulled to the narrow shoulder by a tall pine woods. He'd pushed too far but, on the back seat, he had a wedge of rat cheese, a few saltines and a hot bottled drink. That would calm his head.The next thing he knew, a voice was speaking from a great distance, toward his left ear.It's nothing but your name. You're dreaming; dream on.But the voice was only sayingSir?Eventually a second voice, young and hectic, echoed the word --Sir? Please wake up.Something in the pitch of thepleasehelped him rouse. But he didn't reflect that the tone of the voice was much like the younger of his two sons at home.It was almost night; he thought that first. But then he realized his eyes had cleared. It was dimmer, yes; the sun was tamer. He glanced at the clock -- a quarter past four.Then from as far off as in his sleep, the older voice came at him again, "Are you all right?"He looked to his left and was startled to see a woman and a child. Young woman, boy