Reynolds Price, 1986
Simon & Schuster
0ne of the most feisty, spellbinding and engaging heroines in modern fiction captures the essence of her own life in this contemporary American odyssey born of red-clay land and small-town people. We meet Kate at a crucial moment in middle age when she begins to yearn to see the son she abandoned when she was seventeen. But if she decides to seek him, will he understand her?
Kate Vaiden is a penetrating psychological portrait of an ordinary woman in extraordinary circumstances, a story as joyous, tragic, comic and compelling as life itself. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—February 1, 1933
• Where—Macon, North Carolina, USA
• Education—B.A., Duke University; Rhodes Scholar, Oxford
• Awards—National Book Critics Circle Award
• Currently—lives in North Carolina
Reynolds Price, novelist, poet, playwright and essayist, author of the bestseller Kate Vaiden and Roxanna Slade, is one of the most accomplished writers ever to come out of the South. He is an author rooted in its old life and ways; and this is his vivid, powerful memoir of his first twenty-one years growing up in North Carolina. Spanning the years from 1933 to 1954, Price accurately captures the spirit of a community recovering from the Depression, living through World War II and then facing the economic and social changes of the 1950s. In closely linked chapters focusing on individuals, Price describes with compassion and honesty the white and black men and women who shaped his youth. The cast includes his young, devoted parents; a loving aunt; his younger brother Bill; childhood friends and enemies and the teachers who fostered and encouraged his love of writing. (From the publisher.)
Reynolds Price is an American novelist, poet, dramatist, essayist and James B. Duke Professor of English at Duke University. Apart from English literature, Price has had a lifelong interest in ancient languages and Biblical scholarship. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Price was born in Macon, North Carolina and, after attending public schools of his native state, went to Duke University, where he graduated summa cum laude in 1955. Afterwards he went to Merton College, Oxford for three years as a Rhodes Scholar and wrote a book about life at Oxford, called 'The Source of Light'. After his return in 1958, he started teaching at Duke University, which he has been doing ever since. His first short stories were published in Duke's student literary periodical, Archive. Eudora Welty also helped Price get his first couple of books published; she sent one of his early stories, "Michael Egerton" to her own publisher, but Price's first book was not a collection of stories; it was a novel entitled A Long and Happy Life.
His other books include his memoir Clear Pictures, and his novels The Tongues of Angels, Blue Calhoun, Kate Vaiden, Roxanna Slade and The Great Circle. The recent The Good Priest's Son is an account of a 9/11 experience.
Price is a Southern writer. All his books are set in the South and more particularly in his native North Carolina. Price once replied when asked why he chose to remain in North Carolina: "It's the place about which I have perfect pitch." Price has cited Southern writer Eudora Welty as one of his early influences. He has also been noted for his sexually frank writing, and the ambiguous nature of his own sexuality, which has been of critical interest to scholars
He began teaching at Duke shortly after completing his Rhodes Scholarship in the late 1950s. For more than forty years he has taught a class on Milton, and former students include the writers Josephine Humphreys and Anne Tyler, along with the actress Annabeth Gish Chas Salmen.
Price is a favorite author of Bill Clinton, who invited him to dinner at the White House early in his first term.
Price wrote the lyrics to two songs by James Taylor: "Copperline" and "New Hymn."
Price has received numerous literary honors, including the National Book Critics Circle Award, the William Faulkner Foundation Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his memoir Clear Pictures (1989). He is also a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Price's book, Feasting The Heart (2000), is a collection of controversial and personal essays, originally broadcast to great acclaim on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. (From Wikipedia.)
Kate Vaiden, which teems with orphans and murderous and suicidal generations—all the expected passions of a Price book —is...a forgiving, immensely readable story, set mainly in the early 1940's, almost light in feeling (although its tale of early death and frustrated passions is hardly frivolous). But the voice of Mr. Price's heroine blows like fresh air across the page.... Kate, like most of Mr. Price's creations, has to struggle under a doom not of her making, but she describes and then contrives a hedged escape from it with wit and resolution. She is feisty and full of self-knowledge, ''a real middle-sized white woman that has kept on going with strong eyes and teeth for fifty-seven years.
Rosellen Brown - New York Times Book Review
At once tender and frightening, lyrical and dramatic, this novel is the product of a storyteller working at the full height of his artistic powers, recapitulating with a new ease the themes of memory and familial love that have informed his work from the beginning.... Though Kate's story is a violent one in the best Southern Gothic tradition — the novel numbers at least half a dozen untimely deaths, as well as several stabbings — Mr. Price orchestrates it so convincingly that each event comes to feel like an inevitable act, a product equally of fate and temperament and will.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times
Surely his finest work so far. A wise and wonderful story told by an artist at the peak of his powers...you will want to meet Kate Vaiden and get to know her. And in the end...you will want to stand up for Reynolds Price.
Chicago Tribune Book World
You won't hear many voices in your life that are as interesting as Kate Vaiden's.
Price's new novel again is enhanced by a Southern setting, and his art as a writer transforms a rather cliched tale of an orphaned girl who never attains the capacity for love into a compelling story. From the vantage point of middle age, narrator Kate Vaiden looks back at her life, shattered at the age of 11 by the suicide-murder of her parents. She is raised by her loving aunt and uncle, who themselves have not been successful at parenting. Her cousin Swift is the serpent in Kate's future happiness. A true viper, he poisons the fond memory Kate has of her high school lover, a casualty in the first world war, and impels her to leave home. A succession of other emotional orphans become fellow wanderers through Kate's peripatetic existence. When she has a son out of wedlock, she lacks the maternal urge and abandons him to the same relatives who raised her. Thirty-five years later, she tries to discover his fate. Price's (The Source of Light) lyrical prose, blossoming with felicitous imagery and authentically grounded in the regional cadences of the characters' speech, holds the magic of a true raconteur. Though it tends toward melodrama and has some lapses in credibility, this is a touching, engrossing narrative by one of our most gifted writers.
Kate Vaiden's story is set in Price's Macon, North Carolina, a small town where a young girl could walk alone safely because "There were killings and rapes but never by strangers, always family members.'' Kate gives an honest account of herself as a daughter, niece, young woman, and mother, inducing the reader to like her in spite of her flaws, which abound. The language is richhugging the recalcitrant black cook is like embracing "a tall thicket of polished broomsticks' 'but not ostentatious. Price has been labeled a "Southern writer," and he certainly is that, but it would be a shame if his audience were limited to those with an academic interest in Southern literature. He is a fine storyteller whose work may have its strongest appeal among Southerners, but librarians should make Kate Vaiden available to general readers everywhere. —Mary K. Prokop, CEL Regional Lib., Savannah, GA
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