LANDSCAPES OF THE HEART by Elizabeth Spencer

LANDSCAPES OF THE HEART

A Memoir

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A literary memoir that's part paean to the golden-age South and part unstinting critique of that region's corrupting segregation and cultural rigidity. Award-winning novelist Spencer (The Night Travellers, 1991, etc.) has led a peripatetic life, traveling widely in Europe and living for many years in Canada. But her hometown of Carrollton, Miss., remains a locus for both memory and fiction. She writes glowingly of a happy childhood in the 1920s and '30s, surrounded by a doting extended family and immersed in the genteel rhythms of plantation life. Early on, she realized the importance (and the constriction) of maintaining appearances in a society where orderliness and prescribed behavior were paramount. Her problems with authority and her budding noncomformity--expressed first in a love of books and writing and later in her support of desegregation--eventually led to estrangement from her father, a businessman who valued commerce above art and racial equality. Spencer's preference for remembering her hometown's nurturing goodness, rather than the flaws that drove her out, is illustrated by her refusal to revisit the decrepit remains of once-grand mansions inhabited by family and friends: ``Where Carrollton is concerned it seems a desecration to recognize that time exists at all.'' She does confront Mississippi's intransigence on race, recounting her horror over the Emmett Till murder and the inseparable divide it opened within her family. Tales of travel in Germany, Italy, France, and England (and her life as a published but impoverished writer in New York) paint a romantic picture of bohemian life. Literary friendships and encounters with Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Walker Percy, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, and a memorably frosty William Faulkner are detailed in entertaining and vivid thumbnail characterizations. More than simply personal history, Spencer's self-portrait of her literary development dramatically personifies the high price the South paid for driving out its best and brightest. (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-45739-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1997




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