Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

That Evening Sun

William Gay the writer is an inspiration. He was only discovered by the literary world and published relatively late in life, around age 50, and from an unlikely place, Hohenwald, Tennessee, and an unlikely occupation, handyman.

As a native Tennesseean I feel his writing hits home. I know his characters. I know the hills and woods and old clapboard houses in need of paint where his stories unfold. And Mr. Gay's rich vocabulary and colorful dialogue, the ironic humor and dangerous yet heroic stubborness of the folks whose lives he examines, flow off the page through my brain as natural as dew on the morning grass.

I met Mr. Gay several years ago at a book signing in Franklin. He was warm and encouraging, instantly likeable but I suspect sometimes difficult like someone right out of one of his books. So I have cheered his success as his subsequent novels have been published and now, as one of his stories has been made into a movie. I worried, however, that the movie would not capture the power of the story.

That story, "I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down", could have been written about my mother. It was the first piece by Gay that I ever read, and I did so when it first came home to us that living on her own was no longer a good option, an opinion she did not share. Acting on this realization was to prove neither a simple nor a smooth process. She has not gone mildly into that good night, strong willed and irrascible and independent-spirited Tennessean that she is. I know we have on balance done the right thing but I can't blame her for a bit of her resistance to it. I could not tell you more succinctly about it than Mr. Gay does in his story.

And I am happy to report that in the new movie "That Evening Sun" Hal Holbrook plays the headstrong iron-willed Meechum perfectly and the director sets just the right pace and setting. I hope it catches on. Mr. Gay's thoughtful painting of life's passions and passing deserve a wider audience.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Devil's Dream

That I received this book for Christmas and I’m already writing a review of it tells you how compelling it is to read.

Like the author, I grew up in middle Tennessee. I’ve always heard Nathan Bedford Forrest’s name, seen it on street signs, and known vaguely that he was a Civil War hero and a figure of some disrepute for being involved with the Ku Klux Klan’s founding. But I’ve known little more than that. I think probably talk of him has been hushed even around here since the civil rights movement in the sixties. Perhaps that’s why the garish statue of him along I-65 was put up. Lest he be forgotten in the haze of political correctness.

And he shouldn’t be forgotten. Like the statue, he was larger than life in his time, a man of many contradictions from a distance but a fascinating and in many ways admirable human being up close—as Madison Bell ably explores in this novel.

I’ve read many of Madison’s other novels as well, especially the Haiti series. They are all worth reading. This one is not only closer to home, but compelling as well. I can’t help liking it best of all. It left me wishing it didn’t end and wishing that I could have known Forrest in his time.