Archive for ‘Tito Perdue’

May 13, 2009

Lee Pefley goes to Hell

Fans of novelist Tito Perdue are intimately familiar with the eccentric protagonist of his books, Lee Pefley. In his most recent work, Fields of Asphodel, the reader sees the afterlife through Pefley’s eyes. It seems Pefley must atone for his sins — or rather, for his virtues — and Fields of Asphodel is sort of like Dante’s Inferno updated to account for Satan’s modernized methods:

Just now they were running through a neighborhood of superb homes, structures of four and five stories with balconies and fountains with sculptures in them. The youngest of the men noted his amazement.
“You approve of these homes, Dr. Pefley?”
Lee admitted it. “Gosh,” he said. “And just look at that one! Why, it must be the post-mortem residence of some great philosopher or composer? Melville’s house, is it? Poe’s?”
“Who? No, actually it’s the summer place of one of the finest strong side tackles in the country. Hell of a nice guy, too.”
“And that one! Moses!”
“I can see you have good taste. That one belongs to a really great man, doctor. He picked just the right time to unload half a million contracts of orange juice futures. Two lovely children, too.”
“And there! Happy the man or woman who dwells in that!”
“Lottery winner.”
“And yonder!”
“Rock singer.”
Lee gaped at it. He had subscribed all his life to the meritocracy theory, and now he was being vouchsafed a look at one of the meritocrats himself, a fat man in an undershirt snoozing by the pool.

I’ve known Tito for about 15 years. He never ceases to denounce me as a “philistine,” mainly due to my abhorrence of opera, and I return the compiment by calling him a “pagan,” to which he never objects. To anyone who enjoys a fine novel, I heartily recommend all of Tito Perdue’s books.

April 17, 2009

Tito Perdue, literary genius

Woke up this morning at 8:30 a.m. after staying up until 3 a.m. talking to my old friend Tito Perdue. The morning sun is streaming down on the lakefront here about 10 miles north of Wetumpka, Alabama. It’s beautiful, although I thought the midnight stars were more beautiful.

We watched opera last night, and Tito reminded me how we met. I’d written a column for the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune which (humorously, I thought) explained why I couldn’t stand the caterwauling of an operatic soprano. Tito, who was then living in Cave Spring, Ga., wrote a letter to the editor denouncing me as a philistine. This was the start of a long and eventful friendship. More after this operatic interlude featuring the Russian soprano Netrebko:

Among other things, I’m semi-responsible for Tito’s “outing” as something other than a liberal. (Don’t ever call him a “conservative”; he’ll reply, “No, I’m a reactionary!”) Tito’s first two novels were published to critical acclaim and he looked to be well on his way to being the next Winston Groom (who is, in fact, a cousin of his). Critics thought his Faulkneresque style was “postmodern,” and he was favorably reviewed in the New York Times, etc.

Then, after we met, I wrote a feature profile about Tito, describing his library full of classics, his enjoyment of Wagner, his admiration of Nietzsche, his general loathing of all things new or even recent. Among other things, he mentioned in the interview that, if there were ever to be a film made of his books, the only director he’d want would be Elia Kazan — who, you may recall, “named names” for the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Tito thought the article was splendid, and copies of the article were distributed by his agent. At which point, the game was up. His book contract was cancelled and it was a couple of years before he published his next novel, which the New York Times didn’t review. Difficult as is the life of a literary novelist in the Age of Illiteracy, imagine what it’s like for Tito being marked as an antagonist of the liberal culture — really, an antagonist of the entirety of contemporary society. And, doggone it, Elia Kazan is dead!

Tito is a fine storyteller and his first novel, Lee, is great, even if the critics agree. The book introduces the protagonist Lee Pefley, who is featured in his other novels. His second book, The New Austerities, was actually better, I thought. More recently, he’s published a wonderful tale of Lee Pefley’s romantic youth, The Sweet Scented Manuscript. This is a roman a clef of Tito’s own wild experience at Ohio’s Antioch College, where he met, wooed and married his wife Judy.

Their love affair was scandalous enough to get them both kicked out of school in 1957. They’ve now been married 51 years, and I think young readers — who have zero idea of what the 1950s were really like, much less the kind of love that causes two kids to get married at 18 — would get a thrill out of The Sweet Scented Manuscript. Of course, this postulates the hypothetical existence of young people who read literary novels for any reason other than being assigned to do so by their teachers. Sigh.

At any rate, I’m sitting barefoot in Tito’s living room, which has a magnificent view of the lake. Last night, as we stood out on the deck underneath a star-filled sky, I said I wished my friends up in D.C. had any inkling of how wonderful Alabama is. This horrified Judy, who expressed the fear that such a revelation might result in an influx that would ruin the place.

So whatever you do, don’t tell anyone that the nearest place to heaven on earth is 10 miles north of Wetumpka on Alabama Highway 111, just off County Road 23. Take a right turn at Martin’s Bait & Tackle and keep going until you find the end of Muscadine Lane.

Of course, you’ll never find the place. You probably won’t even bother to try. And isn’t that sad?

April 17, 2009

‘Stars Fell on Alabama’

I’m here at the home of novelist Tito Perdue, on the lakefront about 10 miles north of Wetumpka, Alabama. We were out on the deck, beneath a clear midnight sky, and I couldn’t help but think of the splendid arrangement of “Stars Fell On Alabama” performed by the world-famous Marching Southerners of my alma mater, Jacksonville (Ala.) State University.

UPDATE: Thanks to Cynthia Yockey for this Doris Day rendition of “Stars Fell On Alabama”:

Man, they don’t write ’em like that anymore.