Noted essayist and critic Crowther (Time, Newsweek, etc.), perhaps better known as novelist Lee Smith’s husband, has gathered together over two dozen sparkling essays on all things Southern.
These pieces (many of which were previously published in the Oxford American) range widely, covering Southern foodways, Southern folkways, and Southern bookways. One delightful essay hazards a guess at why Crowther’s native North Carolina boasts more found-lying-in-the-middle-of-the-road deaths than any other state (apparently most of the folks who check out this way were drunk and passed out sleepily on the pavement). When not focused on roadkill, Crowther spares little in singing the praises of his home, from the guitar tunes of Doc Watson to the vinegary barbecue you can’t find outside the Old North State. In “You Are My Sunshine,” Crowther pays homage to the Southern belle, who “play[s] a critical role in the survival of an endangered civilization—not only Southern but American civilization.” But Crowther can dish out criticism, too. “A Knight in White Flannel” asks just what William Faulkner would have made of Wal-Mart and Microsoft. Crowther takes on political correctness, calling it the “fascism of the Left.” The PC police, he says, are no better for history and literature than xenophobic book-burners, because they limit what writers can say—down to telling white writers not to write books narrated by black folks. In “The Twelve Apostles” (which takes on the manifesto of the Southern Agrarians, the 1930 anthology I’ll Take My Stand), Crowther bravely observes that Allen Tate et al. were right about an awful lot. Crowther’s constant name-dropping becomes tedious, however: he insists on telling us that he’s met Robert Penn Warren and Andrew Lytle, shared a few meals with Cormac McCarthy, and hung out with novelist Clyde Edgerton. But these are lapses of taste that can be easily forgiven.
An insightful and entertaining collection.