Sunday, September 13, 2009

Five best books of Southern fiction

Elizabeth Spencer’s fiction includes the novels The Night Travellers and The Salt Line and the short-story collection The Southern Woman.

For the Wall Street Journal she named her favorite works of Southern fiction.

One book on the list:
The Last Gentleman
by Walker Percy
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1966

Walker Percy's heroes always seem to be the author himself, searching for aim and answers. In "The Last Gentleman," an endlessly polite, sincere and lovable Alabaman named Will Barrett ventures comically through all the crazy creeds and lifestyles of the 1960s, only to wind up adrift in New York. Then he sees a girl in Central Park and falls in love. In finding her he also finds her family, rich and Southern. They look to him as a guide companion for their terminally ill son, ­Jamie. Now Will has love, family and purpose. But is simple Will the ­author's only projected self? We suspect not, for Percy is never satisfied with easy answers. Within the family Will joins is an older son, a brilliant, cynical doctor named Sutter; and a sister, a Roman Catholic nun, Val. The true line of the novel now appears. Is Percy not only Will but also Sutter? The doctor (Percy trained as a medical man, too) writes a journal of philosophic nihilism scoffing at the possibility of human transcendence. Will and Sutter, the mocking alter-ego, make up the novel's core. Yet at Jamie's dying, when a priest arrives, it appears that Will may at last find an answer ­nestled in the folds of the ancient ­Roman church. The novel's laughs are far behind us, and the issues are life and death.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue