The World Is Plenty

The last time we heard Jess Kirkman tell stories about his father's wondrous, humble life was in I Am One of You Forever (1985), a work of power and humor and charm. That book reminded me, however, that the word "novel" has hardly any meaning nowadays, for the work seemed a suite of stories united by a common narrator and single setting, but no more.

The distinction I am trying to make, if it is a legitimate one, is in no sense a deprecation of Fred Chappell's writing. I mean only to say that a suite is not a symphony; that The Unvanquished is not Absalom, Absalom! Of course I'd rather re-read The Unvanquished than any number of contemporary "novels." And I'm very glad I read both I Am One of You Forever and Brighten the Corner Where You Are, particularly so when I reflect upon the larger context of their publication. Fred Chappell writes with so much assurance and humor, he gives such delight and surprise, that he has distinguished himself among his peers as a fiction writer—never mind his even greater career as a poet. A look at what passes for fiction these days probably means Fred Chappell looks better than even he is. I mean, have you tried to read Mary Gordon's The Other Side, or aren't you tired of living yet?

To get down to cases, we have here a day in the life of Joe Robert Kirkman as told by his son, who in turn is barely...

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