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The Christ-Haunted Landscape

The Christ-Haunted Landscape: Faith and Doubt in Southern Fiction

Susan Ketchin
Copyright Date: 1994
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  • Book Info
    The Christ-Haunted Landscape
    Book Description:

    Here are Susan Ketchin's discerning interviews with twelve southerners living and writing in the South, and along with a piece of fiction by each are her penetrating commentaries about the impact of southern religious experience on their work.

    A little more than a generation ago Flannery O'Connor made a startling observation about herself and her fellow southerners: "By and large," she said, "people in the South still conceive of humanity in theological terms. While the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner who isn't convinced of it is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God."

    Guided by O'Connor's perceptive commentary about southerners in general, Susan Ketchin has created a deeply revealing collection that mirrors the pervasive role of religion in the literature by the recent generation of notable southern writers. Ketchin confirms that "old-time religion" remains a potent force in the literature of the contemporary South.

    Susan Ketchin, a writer, editor, and musician, lives in Orange County, North Carolina.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-681-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-2)

    A little more than a generation ago, Flannery OʹConnor made an astute observation about herself and her fellow southerners: ʺBy and large,ʺ she said, ʺpeople in the South still conceive of humanity in theological terms. While the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner who isnʹt convinced of it is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God.ʺ Still earlier in this century, H. L. Mencken had written, more vituperatively, that the South consists of a ʺcesspool of Baptists, a miasma of Methodists, snake charmers, phony real estate...

  5. 1. LEE SMITH

    • God Not Only Speaks But Sings
      (pp. 3-4)

      Lee Smith was born in Grundy, Virginia, and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Hollins College in 1967. After a stint as a reporter and editor for theTuscaloosa News, Smith taught English in secondary schools in Tennessee and North Carolina. Since 1981, she has taught creative writing at North Carolina State University. A visiting professor of English at Duke University in the spring of 1991, Smith currently serves as founding board member and Fellow at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke. Smithʹs first novel,The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed, was published in 1967; her...

    • ʺTongues of Fireʺ
      (pp. 5-43)
      Lee Smith

      The year I was thirteen—1957—my father had a nervous breakdown, my brother had a wreck, and I started speaking in tongues. The nervous breakdown had been going on for a long time before I knew anything about it. Then one day that fall, Mama took me downtown in the car to get some Baskin-Robbins ice cream, something she never did, and while we were sitting on the curly chairs facing each other across the little white table, Mama took a deep breath, licked her red lipstick, leaned forward in a very significant way, and said, ʺKaren, you may...

    • Interview
      (pp. 44-55)
      Lee Smith

      When Lee Smith was a little girl, she gave God a tea party. Perhaps remembering that, she told me she was relieved when she learned that I would be interviewing Harry Crews; until then, she said, sheʹd been concerned that her interview would be the most ʺheathenʺ one in the book. Such good-humored worry about piety and heathenism is emblematic of Lee Smithʹs utterly engaging personality, how she greets and is greeted by the world. Of medium height and build, with blond hair and light blue eyes, a radiant smile, and Scots-Irish fair skin, Smith is noted for her generosity...


    • Saintly Outlaws
      (pp. 56-58)

      For over three decades, the works of Reynolds Price have explored problems of the wounded and wounding human spirit in relation to the palpable world and to the Divine. In novels, short stories, essays, plays, memoirs, poems, and biblical translations, Price says that he has sought to ʺunderstand what is mysterious—in the behavior of the visible world, the behavior of God, of my friends and enemies, strangers, and finally of myself.ʺ In his bookA Palpable God, Price writes that in seeking to probe the mysteries of the unseen world, he finds the concrete world of the everyday South...

    • ʺFull Dayʺ
      (pp. 58-68)
      Reynolds Price

      Early afternoon in the midst of fall; but the sun was behind him, raw-egg streaks of speedy light from a ball-sized furnace in a white sky. Buck even skewed his rearview mirror to dodge the hot glare that would only be natural three hours from now.Am I nodding off?He thought he should maybe pull to the shoulder and rest for ten minutes. No, heʹd yet to eat; his breakfast biscuit was thinning out. One more call; then heʹd push on home, be there by dark. But he took the next sharp bend in the road; and damn, the...

    • Interview
      (pp. 69-99)
      Reynolds Price

      On a cold January afternoon, I interviewed Reynolds Price at his brick and timber home in the countryside, a rolling, wooded land of oak and beech trees north of Durham, North Carolina. The house is situated at the end of a winding gravel driveway at the top of a rise overlooking a pond. The woods beyond are thick with bare hardwoods and pines; the slanting rays of afternoon sun through the trees were piercingly bright but not warm. On the telephone, Price had asked me to come around to the back patio and through the glass doors, where he was...


    • Proceeding Out from Calamity
      (pp. 100-101)

      Larry Brown was born in 1951 and raised in Yocona, Mississippi, a crossroads community near Oxford. After graduating from high school in 1970, he served a two-year stint in the marines, returning home in 1973 to marry and raise a family. From then until early 1990, he served as a member of the Oxford fire department, attaining the rank of captain in 1986. In 1990, Brown left the fire department to write full-time. He and his wife, Mary Annie, and three children have made their home outside Oxford on farmland that was Mary Annieʹs family homeplace.

      Before he became a...

    • ʺA Roadside Resurrectionʺ
      (pp. 102-125)
      Larry Brown

      Story opens, Mr. Redding is coughing in a cafe by the Yocona River, really whamming it out between his knees. Heʹs got on penny loafers with pennies in them, yellow socks, madras shorts, a reversible hat and a shirt thatʹs faded from being washed too many times. His wife, Flenco, or Flenc, as he calls her, is slapping him on the back and alternately sucking her chocolate milkshake through a straw and looking around to see whoʹs watching. Sheʹs got a big fat face, rollers in her hair, and sheʹs wearing what may well be her nightgown and robe. Fingernails:...

    • Interview
      (pp. 126-139)
      Larry Brown

      My interview with Larry Brown took place over the course of three meetings, in the Mississippi towns of Tula and Taylor and in Durham, North Carolina. Though we had met before this, our talks about religion and fiction began in July 1991, when my family and I came to Mississippi for a visit on the occasion of Brownʹs fortieth birthday.

      Having met Richard Howorth (to whom the story ʺFacing the Musicʺ is dedicated) at his Oxford store, Square Books, my husband and I followed him to Taylor, about ten miles south of Oxford, to surprise Larry at a catfish place...


    • On Being Southern, Catholic, and Female
      (pp. 140-142)

      Sheila Bosworth was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1950. Raised in a family of ʺsteadfastʺ and ʺpracticalʺ Roman Catholics, she attended convent schools and weekly Mass among the old French and Irish families of the Crescent City, an intense social milieu that she describes as almost a ʺCatholic dynasty.ʺ In 1971, she graduated from Tulane University. She lives in Covington, Louisiana, with her husband and two sons.

      In her fiction Bosworth blends together a haunting sense of the past, of family, and of deeply ingrained religion; with her keen grasp of the manners and customs of New Orleans, she...

    • From Slow Poison
      (pp. 142-146)

      Years earlier, when Grandolly was dying of cancer, Rory had known she had the power to save her. She knew the secret: all she had to do was to make the infallible nine-day novena to St. Jude, the patron of impossible cases, and name Grandolly.

      The trouble was, Rory couldnʹt seem to get cranked up on the novena. She knew the situation was critical—ʺItʹs in her bloodstream!ʺ she had heard Aunt Tippy whisper, mysteriously, to Merrill, whose horselike jaw had gone slack with hopelessness—but still she was immobilized, and couldnʹt even do the first day of the novena....

    • Interview
      (pp. 146-171)

      Sheila Bosworth has an ethereal air that suggests an artistʹs life filled with sweet poignancy and a past (possibly tragic) shrouded in mystery. Slender, with long blond hair, clear, pale skin, and luminous eyes, Bosworth seems like a fragile romantic heroine, simultaneously aloof from and overwhelmed by the jarring vicissitudes of modern life.

      We met for our interview in a small, glassed-in conference room in the corner of the lobby at the Holiday Inn in Nashville, Tennessee, in October 1992 during the annual southern Festival of Books. Bosworth had been invited to the festival to read from her latest novel...


    • Something’s Got a Hold on Me
      (pp. 172-174)

      Sandra Hollin Flowers was born in Yuma, Arizona, in 1947, the daughter of a homemaker and a mail carrier who was an active member of the NAACP and other community groups. Her grandfather on her fatherʹs side was a Pentecostal minister, but Flowers maintains that her family was not a ʺchurch-goingʺ one. A significant event in her teen years changed the course of Flowersʹs life: in 1960, when she was fifteen, her family moved to a segregated neighborhood and were soon pressured to move out. The family was forced to split up. The children were sent to live with a...

    • ʺHope of Zionʺ
      (pp. 174-183)
      Sandra Hollin Flowers

      Each year when Veronica returned for Hope of Zionʹs home-coming, she entered the church with a fervent prayer that something would have changed. Perhaps there would be new stained-glass contact paper on the windows, new offering and attendance banners, a different version of the Last Supper emblazoned on the wall behind the pulpit. And each year the prayer went unanswered.

      This year, however, the change was in her, for today marked the last time she would make the eight-hundred-mile trip for home-coming. During the last six years she had resented her fatherʹs unarticulated assumption that she would be there. And...

    • Interview
      (pp. 184-197)
      Sandra Hollin Flowers

      Sandra Hollin Flowersʹs rich, soft voice and musical laugh invite you to talk with her about matters both spiritual and temporal in a language and vocabulary not often used in this secular society. When we first began to talk with one another, Flowers spoke with candor and quiet conviction about the Holy Spirit and His transformation of her life. At issue is nothing less than life or death; Flowers takes as a sacred trust the knowledge that all human endeavor must be directed toward loving and serving God with the will of the Holy Spirit as it acts in individual...


    • Mississippi Madness, Mississippi Magic
      (pp. 198-200)

      Will Davis Campbell has been described as ʺone of the most challenging and controversial civil rights figures of our time.ʺ Born in Liberty, Mississippi, in 1924, Campbell recounts spending a good portion of his childhood writing stories sometimes underneath the covers at night after the household had gone to bed. Campbell earned bachelorʹs degrees from Wake Forest College (now university) in 1948 and from Yale Divinity School in 1952 with graduate work at Tulane University. Pastor of a Baptist church in Taylor, Louisiana, from 1952 to 1954, he became director of religious life at the University of Mississippi in Oxford,...

    • From Cecelia’s Sin
      (pp. 200-211)
      Will Campbell

      Goris had wanted to tell them earlier of the rumors of the streets, the things he had heard in his shop from those who were friendly, but Cecelia had decided that the story should be told in two languages. So for more than a month he had watched them as they worked, correcting, adding to, deleting from what was written. As she read aloud Pieter translated and copied her Dutch words into German. Sometimes they worked through the night, stopping only when one of them fell asleep at the table. As they did their work, Goris dozed beside the fire,...

    • Interview
      (pp. 211-229)
      Will Campbell

      Will Campbell lives on a farm in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, about fifteen miles outside Nashville. On the outer boundaries of Music City, this place seems to be a fitting location for a self-described ʺgood olʹ boyʺ and country songwriter. Though probably better known as a ʺpreacher of radical salvation,ʺ Campbell clearly delights in his persona as country balladeer. His songs are naturally flavored with homespun wisdom and social protest springing from his upbringing in rural Mississippi and his travels throughout the world in connection with civil rights. One songʹs yearning yet pointed refrain goes, ʺWhen we was born we was...

  11. 7. DORIS BETTS

    • Resting on the Bedrock of Original Sin
      (pp. 230-231)

      Born in the cotton mill town of Statesville, North Carolina, Doris Betts for the last three decades has lived, worked, and raised three children with her husband on the horse farm they own in rural Chatham County fifteen miles south of Chapel Hill. An award-winning and beloved teacher and faculty leader at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Betts at the same time has earned a distinguished place in American letters as a novelist and short story writer. Beginning withThe Gentle Insurrection(a collection of stories) in 1954, Bettsʹs fiction has explored the complexities of love and...

    • ʺThis Is the Only Time I’ll Tell Itʺ
      (pp. 232-238)
      Doris Betts

      Maybe we should never have given Zelene the baby.

      Except for me, everybody else on those rocky farms had more babies than they could feed.

      Tom Jamison could have fed his—heʹll never get that excuse from me—that man was always crazy. After his wife died he got drunker and crazier, and it was nothing but accident that Zelene Bolick was walking past his house and heard that baby scream and keep screaming. She beat on the locked front door, she called, and finally ran on the wraparound porch to a kitchen window in time to see him sticking...

    • Interview
      (pp. 238-259)
      Doris Betts

      On a warm day in early fall, Doris Betts and I met at the Carolina Coffee Shop in Chapel Hill, a restaurant near the campus that has been frequented by students and professors at Carolina for generations. We sat in a dark booth near the bar; a tiny lamp provided light enough to read our menus by. Dark panelling along the walls, a massive mirror framed in carved mahogany spanning the length of the bar, starched table napkins, heavy white porcelain coffee mugs, and a Brandenburg concerto playing a little too loudly over the radio gave the place a sense...


    • Ancient Spells and Incantations
      (pp. 260-261)

      Although Randall Kenan was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1963, from the time he was less than eight weeks old, he was raised as part of an extended family of farmers and preachers in Chinquapin, North Carolina, a tiny community in the eastern part of that state. After graduating in 1983 from the University of North Carolina, Kenan worked as an editor at Knopf. His first novel,A Visitation of Spirits, was published in 1989. Honors include a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship and a MacDowell Colony Lila Wallace Readerʹs Digest Fellowship. Kenan currently teaches creative writing...

    • ʺThe Strange and Tragic Ballad of Mabel Pearsallʺ
      (pp. 261-277)
      Randall Kenan

      Mabel going down the road. Mabel in her car. Mabelʹs mind a flurry. Mabelʹs mind like Mabelʹs car. Racing. Down the road. Down, down, down. Mabel. Mabel. Mabel thinks:

      Peculiar. That was the word he had used.Peculiar. She could not believe that man. That man had actually sat her down just to call her—peculiar! Not troubled. Or strict. Or tired. Which she was really. Tired. All those bad children running around the classroom. All day long. Five days a week. Then back home to cook. Wash clothes. Clean up after everybody. Fuss at them for not cleaning up...

    • Interview
      (pp. 277-302)
      Randall Kenan

      I met Randall Kenan on a cool, bright April morning in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The sharp shadows and warm sunlight, azaleas and dogwoods blooming along the walkways, and the natural gray wood, cedar shakes, and wooden stairwells of his apartment building gave everything the open, radiant air of a Key West beach house.

      Inside, Kenan greeted me with coffee and sweet rolls. As we sat down at the kitchen table, he filled me in on what he had been doing since publication that month of his new collection of short stories,Let the Dead Bury Their Dead. He was...


    • Celebrating the True and Lively Word
      (pp. 303-304)

      ʺTo do good work takes the concentration of a lifetime,ʺ maintains Mary Ward Brown, author ofTongues of Flame, a collection of short stories she began writing when she was in her sixties, and which was awarded the Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award for best first fiction in 1987. Brown spent her childhood on her parentsʹ three thousand-acre plantation, complete with sawmill, store, and cotton gin, and she earned a bachelorʹs degree from Judson College, a small Baptist institution, nearby. In 1939 she married Charles Kirtley Brown and moved to Auburn, Alabama, for a few years while her husband worked as...

    • ʺA New Lifeʺ
      (pp. 305-318)
      Mary Ward Brown

      They meet by chance in front of the bank. Elizabeth is a recent widow, pale and dry-eyed, unable to cry. Paul, an old friend, old boyfriend, starts smiling the moment he sees her. Sheʹs never seen him look so happy, she thinks. Under one arm he carries a wide farm checkbook, a rubber band around it so things wonʹt fall out.

      ʺWell. This is providential.ʺ He grips her hand and holds on, beaming, ignoring the distance heʹs long kept between them. Everything about him seems animated. Even his hair, thick, dark, shot with early gray, stands up slightly from his...

    • Interview
      (pp. 319-325)
      Mary Ward Brown

      Mary Ward Brown has a rare ability to inspire trust and delight simply by talking to you. Over a period of two years, through much talking on the telephone, we established a friendship based on news of family and church, ideas about writing and editing, and a passion for all kinds of music, especially jazz. One conversation might be about ʺailmentsʺ and grandchildren, the next about a fascination with Anton Chekov and Cormac McCarthy. Brown gives the impression of being completely comfortable, at home in her own skin. Without apparent effort she can bridge any gap in distance, acquaintanceship, or...

  14. 10. HARRY CREWS

    • The Writer as Shaman
      (pp. 326-329)

      ʺIn Bacon County, Georgia where I come from, you donʹt curse the land, the sun, the wind, rain, and you donʹt curse God. All are the same blasphemy,ʺ says Harry Crews in an interview with filmmaker Gary Hawkins. Crews is the author of thirteen novels, two collections of nonfiction, and an autobiography,A Childhood: A Biography of a Place, a penetrating memoir of the significant events of his early life in rural south Georgia during the Great Depression. ʺThe world was full of mystery and awesome power,ʺ he says inA Childhood. ʺIt was only right ways of doing things,...

    • From Scar Lover
      (pp. 329-335)
      Harry Crews

      Pete, who was breathing again normally after nearly smothering in astonishment, said: ʺIf you donʹt mind my asking, what is it youʹre doing?ʺ

      ʺI do mind.ʺ

      ʺPreparing the corpse,ʺ said Linga.

      ʺSatisfied?ʺ Mrs. Leemer asked.

      Pete was not. Heʹd always wondered why the women where he came from insisted on doing this. He wanted to know what Henry was being prepared for. Dead was as prepared as anybody could get. But he thought it best to leave it alone.

      ʺWhereʹs Sarah?ʺ Pete said.

      ʺI think she said she was going to her room,ʺ said Mr. Winekoff.

      In a voice harder...

    • Interview
      (pp. 335-351)
      Harry Crews

      Harry Crews stood on a busy sidewalk in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, leaning against a brick wall outside Harryʹs Bar and Grill, a popular student hangout near North Carolina State University. He was talking to a group of students, filmmakers, reporters, the novelists Lee Smith and Tim McLaurin, my assistant, Hannah Byrum, and me. Crews was waiting for a ride to the university library where he would see a preview for students and faculty of a Gary Hawkins documentary film about his life. Though it isnʹt far to walk, Crews welcomed the lift; his knees, injured a while back in...


    • A Garden of Paradoxes
      (pp. 352-354)

      Clyde Edgerton was born in the rural community of Bethesda, North Carolina, in 1944. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, earning his Ph.D. in English Education there in 1975. From 1966 to 1971, he was a pilot in the United States Air Force, serving one year in Southeast Asia. He has published five novels:Raney(1985),Walking Across Egypt(1987),The Floatplane Notebooks(1988),Killer Diller(1991), andIn Memory of Junior(1992); his short stories have appeared inSouthern Review, Southern Exposure, Chattahoochee Review, and elsewhere. His work has appeared in anthologies such asFamily...

    • From Raney
      (pp. 354-361)
      Clyde Edgerton

      I was just beginning to relax when Millie asks, ʺIs there an Episcopal church nearby?ʺ I had forgot about her changing over to the Episcopals.

      ʺThereʹs one in White Level,ʺ says Charles. ʺSara—at the library—goes there.ʺ

      ʺYouʹre more than welcome to come to our church,ʺ I said. ʺAnd since weʹre going to eat at Mamaʹs, weʹll be close by.ʺ

      ʺI really like the formality of the Episcopal service,ʺ says Millie.

      ʺIʹve gotten used to it. Charles, give them a call this week and if theyʹre celebrating Eucharist Sunday morning at around ten or eleven, I could slip over...

    • Interview
      (pp. 361-370)
      Clyde Edgerton

      Often when he is being interviewed, Clyde Edgerton will describe himself as having been raised by twenty-two aunts and uncles (who all lived in the same community where he was born) and three ʺmothersʺ—Truma, his actual mother, who at eighty-nine still lives in Bethesda; her younger sister, Lila, who lives in nearby Durham; and her older sister, Oma Crutchfield, who died two years ago at the age of ninety-one. The only child among the three families, Clyde received a rich store of family stories, jokes, and legends, along with ʺmore than enough attentionʺ and an unshakable sense of belonging...


    • When I’m Fog on a Coffin Lid
      (pp. 371-372)

      Allan Gurganus was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, in 1947, the eldest of four sons. His first novel,Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, was published in 1989. ANew York Timesbestseller for eight months, it was awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize for the Best First Work of Fiction and has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, and German.

      Since 1974, Gurganusʹs short fiction has appeared inHarperʹs, The Atlantic, GRANTA, Antaeus, The Paris Review, andThe New Yorker. He has won two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Danforth Fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Grant,...

    • ʺIt Had Wingsʺ
      (pp. 372-375)
      Allan Gurganus

      Find a little yellow side street house. Put an older woman in it. Dress her in that tatty favorite robe, pull her slippers up before the sink, have her doing dishes, gazing nowhere—at her own backyard. Gazing everywhere. Something falls outside, loud. One damp thwunk into new grass. A meteor? She herself (retired from selling formal clothes at Wanamakerʹs, she herself—a widow and the mother of three scattered sons, she herself alone at home a lot these days) goes onto tiptoe, leans across a sinkful of suds, sees—out near her picnic table, something nude, white, overly-long. It...

    • Interview
      (pp. 376-395)
      Allan Gurganus

      I met with Allan Gurganus at his home, a yellow frame cottage surrounded by lush herb and flower gardens at the end of a quiet lane in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in early September 1991. Though he lives in New York City for part of each year, Gurganus had come home to North Carolina to recuperate from a nationwide tour for his collection of short stories,White People, and to see family and friends. An easygoing and gracious host, he greeted me at the front door with a hug, his ear to a portable telephone. On the other end of...

  17. Selected References
    (pp. 396-398)
  18. Index
    (pp. 399-407)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 408-408)