Some writers grab hold and don’t let go. Their sensibilities, style, and focus meld with something in us, turning reading into magic. Reynolds Price is one such writer for me. His novels and memoirs are constructed of individually beautiful sentences trumped only by the sense of wonder instilled by the whole. While reading his books I experience the tell-tale sign of a great book—the dread of knowing the book must end. They all end, but Price was prolific, leaving novels, memoirs, poems, and meditations on faith.
After graduating from Duke in the 1950s, Price studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He returned to Duke and wrote A Long and Happy Life. His first novel marked his precocious talent and depicted a young woman confined by family and environment, seeking love in her small town. Plus, it has fantastic character names like Rosacoke Mustian, Willie Duke Aycock, Macy Gupton, and Landon Allgood.
In 1984 Price was diagnosed with cancer. The radiation therapy used to treat a spinal tumor paralyzed him from the waist down. Years later he wrote A Whole New Life, which discusses his paralysis, but focuses more deeply on the manner in which a life evolves expectedly and unexpectedly. Within A Whole New Life Price discusses working towards his highly-acclaimed novel Kate Vaiden. Kate Vaiden is one of the great characters in American literature.
Reynolds Price passed in January 2011. He had been working on his final memoir and published posthumously Midstream: an Unfinished Memoir. Midstream focused on his thirties as his academic and writing careers began to flourish. It picks up the tale begun by his first memoir Ardent Spirits: Leaving Home, Coming Back about his time in Oxford.
A second reading of a book can be even better than the first. I look forward to rereading some of my favorite Reynolds Price books.