Jennifer S. Davis Embraces Her Southern Literary Roots

This week’s edition of FiveChapters.com features “Witnessing,” one of my favorite stories from the Jennifer S. Davis collection Our Former Lives in Art. It’s an excellent introduction to her work which I encourage you to read—but, really, every story of hers I’ve experienced has been fantastic, so once you’ve read this one online, I hope you’ll consider buying them all. In this essay, the Alabama native fondly recalls one of her favorite stories, set in an equally compelling South of the imagination.

jennifer-s-davis.jpgI always panic when asked to state my favorite anything. First of all, I’m fickle. No matter what the subject—favorite ice cream flavor, favorite city, favorite color—I will take far too long to decide on a winner, and then change my mind repeatedly within minutes. I can never choose an entrée off a menu in a timely manner, either. Seriously: Eating out gives me severe anxiety, especially if people are watching me order. Inevitably, I suffer food envy. That is the bad thing about choice. I’m almost always sure to make the wrong one.

Picking a favorite writer or novel or story is even more dangerous. It seems that people use such information to make sweeping judgments about who you are, a tidy way to safely categorize or dismiss you. Why else would we scour potential lovers’ and friends’ bookshelves and CD racks if we didn’t want information pertinent to making our decision about the quality of the person in question? I still remember my great heartbreak in college when, desperate to make friends 2000 miles from home, I hit it off with my blonde, bubbly neighbor. Then the Debbie Gibson CD fell out of her car as she unloaded her things. And that was that.

So it is a great testament to Rick Bass’ awesome talent that when asked to choose and discuss my favorite story, I thought of “The History of Rodney” in seconds and had no qualms swearing allegiance to my choice. First of all, it walks the margins of reality but still manages to hit harder and with less guile than most in-your-face realistic stories, and that accomplishment thrills me as a reader. Secondly, it takes place in Mississippi, and I’ve quit pretending that I don’t prefer Southern fiction, more often than not, to all other fiction. And this isn’t your ordinary Mississippi (not that, from my experience, there is anything ordinary about Mississippi), but rather a place almost excused from time, where threatening swine rumored to be descendants of Union soldiers rule a tiny enclave of twelve. A place where indistinguishable days are spent sweating on sun porches while fantasizing about the beauty of the Mississippi River, which up and changed course years before, abandoning the town of Rodney and moving seven miles over. These seven miles might as well be a continent, and the narrator and his wife speak of the river as a mythical thing.

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30 July 2007 | selling shorts |

Orwell Wrote Other Books Besides 1984, You Know

We haven’t had a “Maslin Watch” here in ages, because life is too short to put myself through that kind of torture on a regular basis, but her review of the new John Twelve Hawks novel snuck up on my RSS reader with its craziness:

“When a series starts off as excitingly as John Twelve Hawks’s Fourth Realm Trilogy did, readers are apt to cut the author’s next installments a little slack. After all, once an imaginary world springs full-blown from a writer, follow-up fatigue is to be expected. It’s natural to find an author ensnared by his own fanciful creations. Having leapt so high in the first place, the writer is left facing a steep climb.”

I’m like, hello? We’re talking about the same John Twelve Hawks, right? The one with the debut novel that most critics agreed was pretty god-awful? But then I realized, Janet Maslin isn’t most critics. Although she’s not working particularly hard at it, either: The Traveler was described as “a true Orwellian synthesis of the world’s ills,” and for her review of The Dark River, she goes on about the “red-hot Orwellian paranoid fantasies” Twelve Hawks crafts. Here’s a tip for the copyeditor at the Times desk: if a book reviewer calls something “Orwellian,” you don’t need to clarify that with “paranoid.” And a tip for Maslin: There are other authors in the world who deal with the oppressive condition of modern existence.

26 July 2007 | uncategorized |

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