OPPORTUNITIES IN ALABAMA AGRICULTURE
Just after the Civil War in an Alabama ravaged by volcanoes a young man leaves his demented father's compound and seeks a job and mate among fellow Alabamians. Blessed with an uncanny ability to spell (it lands him a teaching job) he fights and fumbles his way into respectability as the husband of a recently burned-out woman who still has many fertile acres and a sound barn...
On his way to becoming a patriarch he and his crops take such a beating that he is on the verge of losing everything...
Strange, very strange.
BUY THE BOOK from Amazon or Barnes & Noble
Read an excerpt below
Read reviews below
At that period, when the colors of things were as yet indeterminate, and the various tints were prone to running all over the page upon which those same tints were mentioned, at that time Time itself afflicted him severely. Already, the cabin had burnt. Mule too—badly scorched. Ben did, however, still spy him from time to time, still breathing, still a mule. Suddenly, his face covered, Wade dashed from the cabin and stumbled out into the field where he lay, groaning at the sun.
"Nine" acres, I said? Those days, when he went down to the Edge, in fact the distance was further, owing to the number of cow chips that the old man had pasted there one by one. Therefore in great pride, it was eleven acres now, no longer just nine. And then too, eleven made a better showing among the planets.
Moaning in the cabin, one of the brothers had died. Never was Ben to forget it, when at last they lifted off the cloth that had for so long covered his face. That night, with moaning in the cabin, he crawled along the floor, checking the face of each surviving brother. To his father, he did not crawl. His father had the bed, and did his moaning several inches off the floor.
Year after year, and still the Time would never stop, never turn, never go back to whence it had come. But mostly it was the deteriorating sun itself; was he the only one to see that it had begun to flicker out?
It was a good day, that when the first planted agricultural row crops began to make an appearance in the acres that were not yet dark. He spent long days, coordinating the growths with stick, glove and scissors. (He had learned to get quickly out of the way for each new volcano that came up.) But his father, who went abroad without his face-covering, his father nowadays spent the better part of his days scaling up and down the "sun-tower" fabricated from disused wasp nests, his memorial to his wife. They passed without speaking.
It was in his fifteenth year, the colors still running, when a bee came and, saying nothing, bit him on his scissor's finger. Ben groaned, suffering from the knowledge of the coming of the insects to his twenty-acre world. And when he looked up, it was not just clouds he saw; groaning, he saw (and heard) the braying mule tumbling slowly in orbit.
Winter came and passed, and although he sat out the whole time among his agricultural row crops, yet the crops did poorly. Spring he dreaded, knowing now about the insects and the reeking world.
So the days. Slowly and slowly, the colors did congeal upon the page. Very seldom now did he go all the miles down to the Edge -it was further, the stars more settled. He believed the world had thirty acres to it, believed it steadfastly, even up until that morning he heard a rooster crowing on other acres that belonged to someone else.
Part of the power of the prose of a William Faulkner or Thomas Wolfe comes from the prose reading like poetry. In Faulkner's case, the poetry is encased in masterful structure and carries great plots; in Wolfe's case, the language is enough.
Tito Perdue's novel, Opportunities in Alabama Agriculture, is in that genre of southern fiction told in great language. The plot is almost unnecessary to the book because the language is so well crafted.
For proof, read only his opening paragraph (aloud, please):
"Followed then six years in silence. For if it were otherwise in old times, now it had come to this, that he dwelled on nine acres near the edge of the world. Have I said he had ten brothers? Each more ignorant than the other? Himself most ignorant of all? Sin, too, sin was there, so much of sin that all had taken to keeping their faces covered, yea, even in their many tasks. And if once Wade did rush from the opening, his face girded-up in self-punishment, yet soon the sun would drive him back."
What follows is like unto the beginning. The story is almost irrelevant to the language.
Ben is the hero, as his grandson, Lee, was in Perdue's two earlier novels. Born in the wake of the Civil War, he leaves the farm at age 16 and makes his way into the world, using his ability to spell to land a job teaching school and into the graces of a woman with abundant farmland. Back into farming, Ben hovers on the brink of economic annihilation, only to be rescued again by his spelling ability, which gets him into government service.
Ben's is an odyssey and a genealogy no different from that of thousands of other southern boys caught in the transition century between the Civil War and World War II. The difference is that Perdue invests the saga of leaving and longing with poetry, and suddenly our grandfathers take on nobility that may have escaped them at the time.
Southern Seen by Larry McGehee
…Perdue's writing is convincing and lucid and provides the reader with black comedy that is both strange and troubling as it depicts the events in one life…
Larry Lawrence / Sunday Life