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Released November 13, 2003

CRITICS LAUDING SOUTHERN MISS NOVELIST'S LATEST EFFORT

HATTIESBURG - Centered around a professor sorting out the fragments of his second mid-life crisis, Frederick Barthelme's new novel, Elroy Nights, has catapulted the director of The University of Southern Mississippi's Center for Writers back into the national literary spotlight after a six-year absence.

In Elroy Nights, Barthelme's 13th book of fiction, the author reexamines familiar subjects - love, disillusionment, malaise, redemption - while weaving in new insights into the human heart.

Well into his 50s, Elroy Nights is the protagonist of Barthelme's new novel, an art professor at a fictitious university on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. With his stepdaughter grown and his ties to his wife slackened, Nights moves into a condominium in Biloxi for one last hoorah before steeling himself for the onslaughts of old age. Soon, the professor is crossing lines with his students - lines he once held taboo.

By the novel's end, Nights has had a brief fling with a female student named Freddie - his daughter's friend. He's suffered the guilt of the suicide of his most promising art student, who had a crush on Freddie. And he's led a small band of students on a meandering road trip across the southeast in what Clay Risen of the Nashville Scene says "leads him to a deeper understanding and acceptance of his station in life."

Departing somewhat from the minimalist style that marked his earlier novels, Barthelme's story "moves along at a brisk pace," writes Roland Merullo of the Boston Globe. "Barthelme peppers his scenes with quirky spurts of dialogue and clips them down to a bare minimum."

The first half of the novel, Merullo writes, "bustles along in a jaunty jumble of scenes" as the characters "come to life in a few brush strokes, with bits of humor and neat observation freckling the canvas. Barthelme is the master of the one-liner."

In the New York Times Sunday Book Review, critic Bruce Barcott praises Elroy Nights for its deft characterization and its stunning language.

"Barthelme's writing is so good I'd follow Elroy to a paint-drying festival," Barcott writes.

"Barthelme's world is vague and unclear. Conversations dead-end, spousal jabs go unanswered, Elroy and Freddie's relationship never evolves into anything defined. Still, currents of hope run through Elroy Nights," Barcott continues.

Oxford novelist Barry Hannah calls Elroy Nights Barthelme's "most human book."

"Now his acclaimed verisimilitude has risen way above honesty to blue soul music. Beautiful," Hannah said.

In the Baltimore Sun, critic Dail Willis writes that Barthelme's dissection of love is "an evocative, delicate study of human frailty. His novel is a book that rests lightly but persistently on the reader's mind."

Novelist David Leavitt says Barthelme's book richly displays the concision, humor and delicacy that are hallmarks of all his fiction. "He is as subtle an analyst of the strategies that underlie the institution of marriage as Iris Murdoch, yet his urbane prose reminds one more of John Cheever. Altogether a marvelous book," Leavitt says.

Says author James Atlas: "Frederick Barthelme has written a moody, brooding meditation on the crises of middle age, on sex, longing, on the transience and perdurability of dreams. At once somber and funny, 'Elroy Nights' beautifully captures the atmosphere of a place - coastal Mississippi - and the mental weather it evokes."

In addition to directing the writing program at Southern Miss, Barthelme edits the literary journal Mississippi Review. Published in October by Counterpoint Press, Elroy Nights is available in hardcover for $24. For more information about the book or the university's Center for Writers, contact Rie Fortenberry at (601) 266-5600.

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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM

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