William Price Fox Essay - Critical Essays

Fox, William Price

Introduction

William Price Fox 1926–

American novelist and writer of short stories and screenplays.

Born in South Carolina, Fox uses Southern settings in his work. In Ruby Red, for example, he details a country and western singer's struggle for recognition. Fox has received sparse critical attention; he is acclaimed mainly for his deft storytelling and characterization.

(See also Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 2: American Novelists since World War II.)

Martin Levin

["Moonshine Light, Moonshine Bright"] eschews immortality entirely in favor of illegality: sub rosa gambling, bootlegging, underage pool playing and other racy pastimes. All of this activity seethes during one long, bustling summer in a Columbia, S.C., slum, populated by poor whites too joyous to be Snopeses.

The episodic design of the novel is neatly lashed together by a couple of teen-age boys, Earl Edge and Coley Simms, who will stop at nothing to scrounge enough money to buy a car. These delinquent Penrods begin a life of crime selling empty bottles to the local bootlegger, and matriculate by running an automatic still in a wild and very funny interlude. Mr. Fox … is an ingenious storyteller; but it is the saltiness of his characters that gives the book its special flavor. (p. 42)

Martin Levin, "Reader's Report," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1967 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 25, 1967, pp. 42-3.∗

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

[In "Ruby Red"] William Price Fox has tried to do for Nashville what Balzac did for France…. And Mr. Fox, with his sharp eye for the honky-tonk scene and his good ear for Southern rural dialogue, has gotten it all down: the hick-town girls dropping peanuts into their bottles of Dr. Pepper; the farmers standing in line for Saturday night's show at the Grand Ole Opry in their undershirts (with laundered outer shirts tucked under their arms to be put on once the show begins); the songwriters sucking tired tunes from burned-out brains; the whole tawdry, pearl-buttoned scene. Why, if Mr. Fox knows any detail that might tell you just a bit more about Nashville and environs, he'll work it in whether it belongs to his story or not.

And that's basically the trouble with "Ruby Red." It's as much an insider's guide to the C & W [country and western] industry as it is the tale of how Ruby Jean Jameson and Agnes McCoy—"The Rose of Sharon Girls"—scrap, connive, hustle, bite, and scratch their ways to success—if a half-hour early-morning talk-and-sing radio show brought to you by the Bite Quik food-franchising people is your idea of success….

So, "Ruby Red" bogs down here and there. One presumes to guess that the author, having been praised for the regional touch he displays in his earlier books—the most memorable of which was a collection of stories called "Southern Fried Plus Six"—can no longer tell whether an episode he conceives is pertinent or merely charming. After all, we have had Mr. Faulkner's Snopeses; we have had the corruptions of Showbiz—the tinsel behind the glitter; and it comes as small surprise that the Nashville Skyline shelters as much hanky-panky as any other skyline.

Is this just an awful novel, then? No, it is not, somehow. It is episodic and clumsily plotted and often as amateurish as a Jacqueline Susann. But it has a nervous energy, a shrewd charm, and a bouncing, puppyish love for its characters that begs a reader's indulgence. And of course there are those of us who hopelessly confuse subject matter with craft, and can't resist the Nashville corn….

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "That Good Old Nashville Corn," in The New York Times (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 1, 1971, p. 37.∗

William A.C. Francis

William Price Fox is a natural storyteller with a good ear for dialogue and a sharp eye for significant details. His sense of timing is flawless. Read "Southern Fried Plus Six" and "Moonshine Light, Moonshine Bright" and then try to think of an American humorist at work today who can match his talent. His world is Columbia, South Carolina. His characters are of the lower class: moonshiners, laborers, razor fighters, short order cooks, gamblers, poolroom loafers, hustlers, and the like. They are never portrayed bitterly. Rather, they are treated warmly and fondly.

"Ruby Red" is the story of a girl's search for success as a country and western singer in Columbia and, later in Nashville…. Ruby is sexy, unscrupulous, and not very talented. Along the way to Music City, U.S.A., Ruby hustles, compromises, and maneuvers to get in the spotlight….

At the heart of "Ruby Red" is the American scramble for fame and fortune. Fox's talent for depicting the values of Ruby and what she stands for is remarkable. He [also] takes us on a fascinating tour of Nashville….

This is the first significant novel to explore the world of the country and western singer which we have come to know through Elvis Presley in the 50's and more recently through Johnny Cash. The inner workings of this world are handled deftly by a man who knows it at first hand and writes about it with vigor. The novel provides us a special glimpse into a world we all know, or have heard about, but have not yet quite found a way to smile at.

William A.C. Francis, "Fiction: 'Ruby Red'," in Best Sellers (copyright 1971, by the University of Scranton), Vol. 31, No. 7, July 1, 1971, p. 171.

William Koon

Before Ruby Red, William Price Fox published two collections of short stories and two novels. The stories [collected in Southern Fried and Southern Fried Plus Six] … are excellent. In them, Fox moves through the slums of his native Columbia, South Carolina, with much ease and little pretension, producing several memorable "characters" and a number of good, quick scenes that allow no room for the sentimentality that often turns up in stories of the reminiscence variety. The novels, though, are far from being successful. Dr. Golf … is a disastrous collection of golf jokes in the form of an advice column. Only the most dedicated golfer would be entertained by it; but dedicated golfers, I bet, have heard most of the jokes. Moonshine Light, Moonshine Bright … gets things back to Columbia's slums. It concerns two adolescents … who have much time and little money on hand for the summer…. [The slums produce] good "characters" and tales, but the author has trouble hanging them together. For long stretches, the book loses track of Earl and Coley and their Hudson while Fox digresses nostalgically on growing up in Columbia and on various characters who wander in and out of the narrative. I think that Moonshine might have been better off as half a dozen stories and sketches than as novel. For that matter, these two novels make one wonder why Fox turned away from short fiction.

Ruby Red,...

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Joan Bobbitt

At their best the fiction and non-fiction of William Price Fox capture that reality which D. H. Lawrence terms "the spirit of place" in both the narrowest and broadest sense. Essentially, Fox is a South Carolina and a Southern writer. His collections of short stories, Southern Fried and Southern Fried Plus Six, are good and funny, but with the exception of a few pieces are little more than local color exercises…. Yet Fox's later fiction as well as some of his non-fiction indicates that he is capable of doing much more. Though they have the usual regional setting, both Moonshine Light, Moonshine Bright, and to a greater extent Ruby Red, move toward the development of a larger theme. (p. 30)

Fox's short stories are varied within a somewhat restricted setting, and there are some fine moments in them. The dominant mood is one of tempered nostalgia as the narrators describe life in the Bottom of lower-class Columbia or reminisce about Wilma, the waitress who helped the neighborhood boys to manhood in the back of an abandoned Chrysler. But it is not until Moonshine Light, Moonshine Bright that Fox's talent for evoking a mood or creating a "character" begins to attain something other than that fine moment…. The novel follows two teenage boys, Earl Edge and Coley Sims, in their summer-long quest for a cheap car. The loose plot affords an opportunity to introduce quite a few characters and scenes. In the course of their wanderings, the boys encounter professional bootleggers, loan sharks, and even a murderer. But most of their acquaintances are good old neighborhood folks, people who have learned to survive. Instead of being dragged down and defeated by their circumstances, the inhabitants of the Bottom move in and out of the 90° heat and in and out of jail with equal aplomb. (pp. 30-1)

Though they obviously reflect the limited concern of a young boy hankering after a car, Earl Edge's thoughts aptly communicate the disparity between the lives of the haves and the have-nots. Such homespun philosophizing occurs frequently among the Bottom inhabitants, and much of it concerns the "little man" and his troubles. Though both are familiar, neither the characters nor their homilies appear hackneyed or artificial. Rather than creating what might have been a series of stereotypes, Fox has fashioned a believable group of people; poor and uneducated, their expressions of fear ringing with humor and authenticity. (pp. 31-2)

What the Bottom dwellers do have is a native resilience and instinct for self-preservation. (p. 32)

This ability to cope is due to their refusal to take themselves or their problems too seriously. Earl and Coley's response is typical when they lose the 1940 Hudson they have worked all summer to buy. As the boys watch their precious car with its stuck accelerator sink into the Cooper River, they do the only thing possible—they laugh…. Although they acknowledge that they never had a "goddamn Chinaman's chance," the...

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Barry Yourgrau

William Price Fox's "Dixiana Moon" is about the troubles faced by a young man in his early 20's. Not real trouble though, since it's all supposed to be a lot of antic whoopee.

Joe Mahaffey, an irrepressible Irish type from Pa., seeks his fortune in New York City…. (p. 12)

To be fair, "Dixiana Moon" (Mr. Fox's sixth book) does have its entertaining moments as it bushwhacks along. The cultists and their activities seem authentically—and quite absorbingly—grotesque; the circus lore, as well as the inside look at commercial salesmanship and the printing business, are interesting (believe it or not). But the main character of Mr. Fox's brand-name-ridden saga is afflicted by an...

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HENRY McDONALD

Ten years have elapsed between the publication of William Price Fox's last novel, Ruby Red, and his new one, Dixiana Moon, but the wait has been worth it.

Dixiana Moon tells how a Southern huckster named Buck Mozingo (or Buck Brody as he also calls himself), specializing in religious revivals and traveling tent circuses, induces a young salesman in New York, Joe Mahaffey, to abandon his safe, sterile existence in the big city and follow Mozingo down the Southern backroads of high adventure. Though Buck, like many of Fox's Southern heroes, is a loser, he is a joyous one, and it is in his character that the central theme of the novel is highlighted. This theme is that Southern...

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