The Magazine

The Long Goodbye

Do the memoirs of Reynolds Price overshadow his fiction?

Sep 10, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 48 • By EDWIN M. YODER JR.
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As his brother Bill writes in a poignant afterword, Price finally became too ill to write. But what he finished brings to an end a rich set of reminiscences, anchored in his commitment to his Carolina roots, his ever-alert sense of the human comedy, and his abiding generosity of spirit. None of this is surprising in a teller of tales, true and invented, who earlier wrote in A Palpable God and repeats here:

A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens—second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives, from the small accounts of our days’ events to the vast incommunicable constructs of psychopaths.

Midstream is apt to raise two intriguing questions. One is whether, and if so, why, the Reynolds Price memoirs overshadow his fiction. The other is, as he asks himself: “If .  .  . your experience had left you with an overpowering need to deliver yourself of written stories, then why did you—a queer man—produce stories .  .  . about more conventional men and women—the kind who married and produced both you and your brother?”

Regarding the first question, Reynolds was a modernist technician of fiction from the outset, and, in consequence, one occasionally hears a faint but distracting knocking about in
the control room. In simple terms, the nonfiction is more relaxed and less self-conscious. As for the second question, Reynolds had come to candid and comfortable terms with his sexuality as the dangers and cruelties of legal and social censure receded. But that censure, condemning as illicit and antisocial what seems to be an involuntary fact of nature, may generate preoccupation—and with it a yearning curiosity about conventional patterns of life and love. Who can say, really? Certainly there can be no doubt of his love and gratitude for his parents and their like.

Whatever the fact, Reynolds’s farewell book released a formidable and catholic talent from all hindrances and left us pages that will last as long as candor, friendship, close and witty observation of our human nature, good humor, and eloquence endure.

Edwin M. Yoder Jr. is the author, most recently, of Vacancy: A Judicial Misadventure.