Mon August 23, 2004
The Alumni Grill
For the past three pre-Thanksgiving weekends in Fairhope, Alabama, Sonny Brewer has put on a literary fiesta, inviting writer friends to come there to read new work to one another. The Alumni Grill are the fifteen contributors of Brewer's get-togethers, which is composed of the three Blue Moon anthologies.
By Don Noble
For the past three pre-Thanksgiving weekends in Fairhope, Alabama, Sonny Brewer has put on a literary fiesta, inviting writer friends to come there to socialize and read new work to one another. This gathering has resulted in three Blue Moon anthologies and now this collection, The Alumni Grill, meaning that the fifteen contributors are alums of Brewer's get-togethers. And, although the title indicates "Southern," the best of these are Alabama writers.
This volume, however, is not edited by Brewer, but by William Gay and Suzanne Kingsbury. Unfortunately there is no contribution to the volume by William Gay, the Tennessean who may be the most important Southern writer of the twenty-first century.
There is, however, an Introduction by Suzanne Kingsbury, and I'd like to take a moment to remark upon it. Don't read it. Read the volume of stories, by all means. Many of them are truly wonderful, but the introduction itself is smarmy, incoherent, florid, the kind of prose a composition teacher would try to beat out of a freshman with a stick. It is a prose poem? the riskiest of subgenres?gone bad.
I quote: Kingsbury says of Brewer's anthologies; "He hand chose the golden quills that filled those books' pages." She advises, "In this book, you are availed by seasoned veterans." What does "availed by" mean?
And the contributors to this book are mainly newcomers; that is the special strength of the volume. She further advises: "Let their work be a beating, beautiful beast that fills you, so you are sensual and divine, naughty and deep." Well. I'd like to be "naughty and deep," but I don't think this book will do it.
Skip this bizarre introduction?now I know you won't?but don't pass up this book.
Michael Knight, of Mobile, has contributed the story "Smash and Grab," about a house burglar who is caught and released, like a trout, is intriguing and amusing. Tom Franklin, the author of Poachers and Hell at the Breach, has contributed a piece, "Christians," which shows his greatest strength: the ability to depict the cruelty, rawness, and violence of the late-nineteenth-century Alabama frontier.
The career of Suzanne Hudson, of Fairhope, is also moving fast. Her third volume of fiction is out, and here is reprinted "La Prade," her prizewinning story of imbecility and father-daughter incest in rural Alabama. This is the third outing for "La Prade," but there is no denying it's a stunner.
Ron Rash, who was very good in One Foot in Eden, is represented here with a pleasant little piece, White Trash Fishing, about the therapeutic benefits of a man spending a night alone by a river, catching, frying, and eating catfish.
Also along the food line is a nonfiction piece by the expert on Southern cuisine, John T. Edge. He writes of unlicensed restaurants, what he calls "back-door" or "proto-restaurants," perhaps on their way to legitimacy. These are located in people's homes and provide each weekday forty, fifty, sixty lunches: meat and three and lots of tea, at a reasonable price and unfettered by Board of Health inspections and ratings. We have these in Tuscaloosa, and they may represent entrepreneurship at its benign best.
There are also poems by Beth Ann Fennelly, a piece by the underappreciated Mississippi writer Steve Yarbrough, set in Poland, and stories by Silas House, Michelle Richmond, Jennifer Paddock, Jamie Kornegay, Sidney Thompson, Bev Marshall, who writes of a bored housewife infatuated with the dangerous blue-collar worker next door, very William Gay, and a poignant story of a stripper redeemed by an obese admirer by Frank Turner Hollon.
The volume finishes with a story by Brad Watson, "Water Dog God," not part of his fine story collection The Last Days of the Dog Men,. Like Suzanne Hudson's story, this one is also a tale of rural perversity and has, in tone, whiffs of the best of Barry Hannah in Airships, and that is no bad thing.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.