In the Deep South, Tall Tales and Tidal Emotions

St. John Flynn in the GPB studio

hide captionCover to Cover host St. John Flynn was born in Coventry, England and educated both in the U.K. and at the University of Georgia.

We polled NPR member stations, looking for shows and personalities with a passion for the writers in — and the writing about — their home territories. When we found them, we asked what they were reading.

Georgia Public Broadcasting veteran St. John Flynn launched the decade-old Cover to Cover in part to assuage his guilt over his unfinished doctorate in comparative literature. The show is a monthly on-air book club focused on notable Georgia authors; in November 2006, Cover to Cover launched a weekly podcast incorporating shows from the program's 100-episode archive.

As for the host's name, it's pronounced "Sin-Jun," which inspired a limerick by Cover to Cover guest James Martin Rhodes, author of In My Father's Generation:

There was a young bloke name of Flynn
Whose primary sin was gin.
When he had a good snout full,
He was often quite doubtful,
If his moniker was St. John or Flynn.

This summer, Flynn recommends these books by some of Georgia's finest:

Life, Love and Car Repair, in a Small Town Full of Quirks

Days of the Endless Corvette: Book Cover
Days of the Endless Corvette, by Man Martin, paperback, 336 pages

Atlanta author Man Martin describes his debut novel as "a story of true love, the mystery of life, and car repair." No surprise, then, that this book is one tall tale in the true Southern tradition.

Set in fictional Humble County, Georgia, in the 1970s, Days of the Endless Corvette introduces us to high-school dropout Earl Mulvaney, who loses his sweetheart, Ellen, after she finds out she's pregnant with her previous boyfriend's baby. (Read and hear a passage.)

Channeling his heartache into mechanics, Earl goes to work for used-car dealer Jimmy Wiggins, who believes his autos are evolving into fish, and finds new purpose in a fabulous quest: saving the leftover parts from servicing Jimmy's '53 Corvette (only 300 of which were ever made) and building himself a whole new car.

Told from the perspective of the town librarian — Earl and Ellen keep in touch by passing notes to each other in library books — Days of the Endless Corvette is a celebration of small-town life and its quirky characters; Martin shows a phenomenal capacity for creating narrative out of what he terms, in the book's opening disclaimer, "moon mist and wood smoke."

In the Lowcountry, Three Questions from Beyond the Grave

Between the Tides: Book Cover
Between The Tides, by Patti Callahan Henry, paperback, 352 pages

Between the Tides is Patti Callahan Henry's fourth novel, and although she's a Northerner by birth, she's acclimated perfectly to life in the South.

Like her previous novels, Between the Tides is set in the South Carolina Lowcountry, bringing to mind such authors as Pat Conroy, Anne Rivers Siddons, and Dorothea Benton Frank — against whom Henry stacks up admirably.

(Some might be tempted to label Henry's books "women's fiction," but that's doing them a disservice; her stories speak to men as well, even if she does focus on the emotional lives of her female characters.)

Nine months after the death of her father, Catherine Leary still hasn't fulfilled his final wish: that she scatter his ashes in the Seaboro River in South Carolina, where the family used to live. A childhood tragedy forced the Learys to move away, and Catherine, who blamed herself for it, has never wanted to return. (Hear an excerpt.) When Forrest, her father's young colleague and best friend, tells Catherine of three questions her father had intended to put in a 30th-birthday letter to her, she's faced with the prospect of returning to the town that once meant so much and became so hated.

The journey Catherine makes with Forrest back to the Lowcountry, then, is inevitably one of self-discovery, as she learns to deal with the burden she has carried for so long. Family secrets, the power of the past, a developed sense of place — Between the Tides is Southern fiction at its best.

Stories of the South, Spanning a Century and More

Down Town: Book Cover
Down Town, by Ferrol Sams, hardcover, 309 pages

Fayetteville, Ga., native Ferrol Sams Jr. has spent his life working as a physician in his home town. He published his first book, Run with the Horsemen, in 1982 — when he was 60. It was the opening of a trilogy of semiautobiographical novels telling the story of one Porter Osborne Jr.

Down Town is Sams' first novel since When All the World Was Young, the last of the trilogy, was published in 1991. Once again, he roots his story in the oral traditions of Southern humor and folklore: James Aloysius "Buster" Holcombe Jr., a poetry-loving, piano-playing lawyer, is Down Town's narrator, and indeed the book purports to be his journal.

Buster's tale is the story of "our town," a small, unnamed place south of Atlanta, spanning a time from the end of the Civil War to more than a century later. True to Southern storytelling tradition, Buster introduces generation after generation of the men and women of "our town" — politicians, businessmen, wives, spinsters, morticians, doctors, sheriffs — along with their myriad endearing foibles, creating patchwork that is "our town."

As it tells their stories, Down Town also tells the story of the American South. Buster's observant narration takes us through Reconstruction, World War I, the Depression, World War II, the civil rights movement, and so on, providing new perspectives on the events that have shaped America since 1865. Down Town is infused with Sams' love of the South, of his hometown of Fayetteville, and of the people whose lives have provided the stories the author has translated into eminently readable books. (Read and hear a passage.)

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