News & Views » Cover

Fall Books

NC Lit Talent On ParadeCL Carolina Writers Night brings McCorkle, Gurganus and more

by

comment

Page 4 of 12

Most engaging is the lead story, "Billy Goats," which follows a group of neighborhood kids, light-headed, prowling on their bikes in a pack in the gathering summer dark of familiar streets.

"The grown-ups looked so silly framed in their living-room and kitchen windows," parents who talked of "depression and loss, of how spoiled and lucky their children were these days. 'We will never be that way,' we said, 'we will never say those things.'" But they do.

McCorkle captures the wonders and loose zaniness of childhood ("I had a contest with myself to see how many times I could call time service before the minute elapsed.") But, looking back, she wishes most for the phone call that can connect her back to those old places and to the people she remembers, and those who died. She wishes to be a stage director who could "call for lights to come on in every house in town and for every person who had ever lived there to step outside and take a long deep breath on this average summer night."

McCorkle can flat out write. She is the prizewinning author of seven works of fiction including five novels, five of which have been named New York Times notable books. The Lumberton, NC native now lives near Boston and has taught writing at the University of North Carolina, Bennington College, Tufts University, and Harvard.

For those who look for distinctive voice and insight and laughter, McCorkle is sure to please. This latest collection of creature stories leaves us to ponder how close to animals and their ways we are. Shannon Ravenel, the editor who has annually chosen and anthologized the best southern stories nationwide, who helped pick the incredible array of writers (including Clyde Edgerton, Kaye Gibbons) first discovered by Algonquin Books, has another winner here in this Shannon Ravenel Book from Algonquin.

Get the Jill McCorkle habit. It will spark your life.

Mary Kratt is a Charlotte author of books of poetry and history.

East Liberty by Joseph Bathanti (Banks Channel Books, 208 pages, $2l.95)

 


Everyone's Gone To The Movies

By Irene Blair Honeycutt

In The End of the Road, one of John Barth's characters states that "everyone is. . .the hero of his own life story. . .Fiction isn't a lie at all, but a true representation of the distortion that everyone makes of life."

Such is the fabric of Joseph Bathanti's debut novel, East Liberty, winner of the Carolina Novel Award. Bathanti, who is also an award-winning playwright and poet, brings his poetic strengths to bear in this coming-of-age story in which the central character, Bobby Renzo, struggles to make sense of life in a world where his main escape is through the movies he and his mother, Francene, watch on television during the 50s and 60s.

No surprise, then, that Bobby compares real-life people to movie stars and baseball stars. If art (story) has the power to change life, then all is not lost. Bobby's retreats into fantasy and into movies provide flickers of hope that he can actually exercise some control over the direction of his life. He comes to equate baseball with God and fantasizes about becoming a baseball player so that he can provide a better life for his mother and "buy a father."

Bathanti, at his best, beautifully orchestrates the plot towards one of the most poignant endings I've ever read. Watching a silent film of Bobby's Confirmation, I am entranced. There is a shadowy sense that some mysterious presence is hovering compassionately over the scene ­ a presence I felt throughout the novel. The book leaves me wanting to rent Route 66, set out peanut clusters and nonpareils, and watch a Lincoln Avenue episode with Bobby and Francene. All because Bathanti, with masterful Malamudian strokes, creates a world of magical realism. Bobby struggles against his secret desire to become a priest, wears the heavy mantle of guilt, does penance for his sins: stealing a baseball bat from Sears; making his grandmother, Nonna, so angry that she throws pasta onto the floor; informing a Sister that his closest friend, Mickey, a "truly gifted artist," has drawn pictures of a naked woman. He becomes guilt personified as he watches Sister Gertrude beat Mickey "with a Calvinistic fury." After Mickey experiences a life-altering tragedy, Bobby's sense of betrayal propels him to flog himself 20 times with a sumac branch. The limitations of his surroundings and the severity of his "role models" have taught him well that "you are called to answer for every trespass." Wherever he turns, his world uses "the wheel-chaired cripple, the drunken vagrant, the cleft palate, the amputee," as parables: "Step out of line, and something bad happens to you."


Add a comment