- 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."
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.
writing is so good I'd follow Elroy to a paint-drying festival,"
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,"
Barry Hannah calls Elroy Nights Barthelme's "most human book."
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."
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.
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."
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.