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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Visitation of Spirits

I found out about Randall Kenan through a party that I went to - surprise, surprise, one can actually learn things at these places every once in a while. One of the people I was talking to told me she had written an article about him for the UNC literary magazine, that he taught at UNC and that people compared him to Faulkner. Naturally I was intrigued and had to check him. So I got a novel of his from the library - A Visitation of Spirits - and plowed through it (well, I wasn't that fast, mainly because I had too much university readings).

The first thing I have to point, quite unsurprising really, he ain't no Faulkner (but then who is). I guess every decent Southern writer will at some point in his life be compared to Faulkner and he is comparable in the sense that he also is describing a South that is slipping away into modernity (for better or worse). Yet, he is his own writer, quite different from Faulkner's abstract writing, he is more concrete, more precise, less ambiguous, his characters are less representative of the South in general. But, he is a good writer and I thoroughly enjoyed his book.

The novel deals with two characters mainly, one who grown up to become a priest in his small home-town and the first black principal of the local integrated high school, the other an overachieving student who has a hard time adjusting to his life, to growing up, to becoming an adult. So, forget about the Faulkner comparison, but if you want to read a North Carolinian author, writing about North Carolina, get one of his novels.

What I found particularly interesting about this author was the position some of his (black) characters displayed towards the white inhabitants of their small town. For someone like me who was to some extent shocked by the separation of black and white that still exists here (and that I had forgotten about since high school), a black point of view that condones self-segregation was very interesting.

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