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Book Review: You & Me by Padgett Powell

Book Review: You & Me by Padgett Powell 1

Fiction Reviews

Book Review: You & Me by Padgett Powell

Book jacket: You & Me by Padgett Powell
You & Me
by Padgett Powell
Ecco, 208 pp.
CLR [rating:3.0]

The Southern Literary tradition of American novels has always been rich for the unique depiction of peculiarities associated with the South; geography, history, racial themes, the Civil War and, of course, language – that special melodic cadence and rhythm of conversation. The masters who have brought us the Southern tradition such as Falkner, Williams, Mitchell, Styron, Twain, Hurston, Brown, O’Connor have all done so in a way that helped the reader feel the south and how it differed from the rest of the country. They have usually done it by focusing on a unique southern feature and then exploiting it on the page. Padgett Powell, an exemplar of southern literature since his career began, has done so too.

Padgett Powell’s most recent work, You & Me captures conversation brilliantly because it demonstrates the insightful, mundane and outrageously funny ways humans interact. The musings of two friends who are seemingly talking about nothing is a deeper look into people talking about something- in several cases quite meaningful. You might enjoy your own shot of bourbon to compliment the liquor these two “weirdly agreeable dudes” are drinking while “on a porch…talking a lot.” The book is a page turner, primarily because once you meet the never named southern characters you are hooked on the hilarious observations they share. And also because the chapters are quick. You feel as if you are right there on that hot, down-south porch, rocking back and forth on the wooden chair, watching people amble by, taking the conversation in every which way from there. The reason it is so realistic, is because Padgett Powell has a “pitch-perfect ear for the way Americans talk.” Realistic prose is hard to create, yet Padgett somehow captures, in his clean, tailored writing, the exact sounds of live conversation in real time. He also exquisitely captures the strange things people say and believe.

Padgett Powell has been ensconced in Gainesville, Florida as a teacher of creative writing for years. His body of work which includes novels and short stories alike has been heralded by many and has been featured in the finest of periodical publications including: The Paris Review, Oxford American and Grand Street. Since his debut novel, Edisto, in 1984, which was nominated for the National Book Award, Powell has produced a variety of additional works over the span of time since. A Woman Named Drown, Edisto Revisited, Typical, Aliens of Affection, Mrs. Hollingsworth’s Men, and The Interrogative Mood. Each was well received and specific to his skill in the southern tradition. On these journeys, Powell has taken us from South Carolina to Louisiana, to the rolling hills of Tennessee, and of course where we are in the moment with You & Me, an unnamed town in Florida where we can spend the day dithering about and pontificating from the open-aired structure at the front of a country house.

But this novel is distinct from where Powell has taken us previously, because of the atmosphere and culture that permeates meandering conversation that actually sounds just like people talk – when we talk about nothing in particular but have so much to say. But the conversation and respective talkers pack a punch; there’s wisdom in there someplace and that is what we find with our two old drunk guys who are sitting of the porch drinking their cares away – probably in need of wives. (Both had wives at one time, and both appear to be elderly based on the cultural references to Lily Tomlin and the Lindbergh baby. And the tell all giveaway on their age is the lack of total familiarity with “J. Lo” as in Jennifer Lopez). Nevertheless as the reader you are privy to private conversation between friends. And what could be better than lounging around with one of your friends riffing unabashedly on the common and banal things – with your friend actually listening. It’s a constant interchange. If you talk long enough, somewhere in there you are bound to say something worth repeating and something that may even be true or revelatory.

As the story begins, we are drinking. (fyi, we will keep drinking).

There’s about fourteen ounces of this left.

There’s a hair in it.

It’s okay.

If you said “lard–and-hair sandwich” to her, my mother would gag.

Was that a Depression food?

I think it was a joke, but I’m not sure.

I’ve heard of butter and sugar sandwiches. But that would hardly be a Depression meal.

I have no idea what the Depression was, or what the war was, or the wars after that, or before—I don’t know anything at all, you get right down to it.

So these codgers have something on is.

Yes they do. That is our cross to bear. Everyone knows shit but us.

Let’s make the best of it.

Fuck these codgers.

They come over here with that shit, tell ‘em to go eat a lard-and-hair sandwich.

I will.

. . .

And then later someone must see a yellow school bus because the conversation continues:

The driver of that school bus is prowling the streets looking for a stray child to molest. He has the perfect cover. Almost any child on earth will voluntarily enter that bus if the door opens and the monster sweetly proffers a ride.

What is your point?

. . .

The reader begins to understand. The point is, there really is no point. And our alcoholic- beverage fueled and at times really drunk sounding talk which is actually quite sobering and brilliant in places continues throughout. In our haze of intellect and exposition, we get to feel southern and breathe the south, at a down home pace.

You & Me is absolutely, positively the most fun you can have sitting down, drinking and reading.

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