IMAGINED PLACES: Journeys into Literary America by Michael Pearson

IMAGINED PLACES: Journeys into Literary America

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Pearson (English and Journalism/Old Dominion Univ.) recounts, in a series of charming informal essays, his experiences visiting six places with literary associations--Frost's Vermont, Faulkner's Mississippi, Flannery O'Connor's Georgia, Hemingway's Key West, Steinbeck's California, and Twain's Missouri. Although each chapter includes a biography of the author and a history of the place, all carefully researched with familiar citations, this is neither a literary nor a travel book, for the emphasis falls on the unexpected people and experiences Pearson found as he went in search of his literary prototypes. In Vermont, he finds TV producer Norman Lear living on Frost's farm, and in a village near Manchester, Barbara Comfort, artist, mystery writer, and inventor of, among other things, an edible toothpick. In Mississippi, Pearson comes across Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, and while few remember O'Connor in Milledgeville, Georgia, Pearson learns a lot about the serial murders there that became the subject of Pete Dexter's Paris Trout. In Hemingway's Key West he finds ""Papa's"" old sparring and drinking partners, businessmen thriving on the real-estate market, and a lady who prospers from designing silk pajamas for Bill Cosby. Salinas, California, is still Steinbeck country, home to Steinbeck's laborers, landscape, and a restaurant where ""each waitress could pass for Steinbeck's mother."" Perhaps the only place that should have been left in Pearson's dreams is Hannibal, where he took his two young sons to discover a shabby, depressed area surviving on tourists. Clemens Field, a recreation spot, retains the walls and barbed wire from when it was a camp for German POWs. Pearson's descriptions and interviews are first-rate, but his literary allusions are often strained (in part because many of the places are not important in the literature), as is, occasionally, his writing: ""the sunshine is as thick as melted butter."" Still, a pleasant read, full of rich anecdote and detail.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1991
ISBN: 0815606605
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Univ. Press of Mississippi