Wednesday, May 17, 2006

James Dickey: Some Links, Some Questions

Book Cover: Deliverance

I don't seem to be able to read one book and then put it down and move on. For some time, I've been trying to interpret James Dickey's vitriolic descriptions of rural Southerners in Deliverance. Do we take at face value our more-or-less reliable narrator's description of the places he went and the people he encountered? Watching the movie (screenplay by Dickey himself, and he appears as the local sheriff toward the end), we see the events with our own eyes, so they are unambiguous. Are we meant to take the novel as a similarly straightforward account? Dickey was a poet and a professor, highly regarded by his students and by literary critics. I would expect that he paid careful attention to his word choice, and that passages such as this are meant to evoke skepticism.

"What's life like up there now?" I asked. "I mean, before you take to the mountains and set up the Kingdom of Sensibility?"

"Probably not too much different from what it's liable to be then," he said. "Some hunting and a lot of screwing and a little farming. Some whiskey-making. There's lots of music, it's practically coming out of the trees. Everybody plays something: the guitar, the banjo, the autoharp, the spoons, the dulcimer--or the dulcimore, as they call it. I'll be disappointed if Drew doesn't get to hear some of that stuff while we're up here. These are good people, Ed. But they're awfully clannish, they're set in their ways. They'll do what they want to do, no matter what. Every family I've ever met up here has at least one relative in the penitentiary. Some of them are in for murder. They don't think a lot about killing people up here. They really don't. But they'll generally leave you alone if you do the same thing, and if one of them likes you he'll do anything in the world for you. So will his family...."

Half hippie fantasy, half horror flick, Lewis's description is proven true by the book's events. I don't know what to think, so I keep reading. I've found several high-quality Internet resources about James Dickey the last couple of months, including some of Dickey's own prose and poetry. Here are my recommendations.

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