Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Reynolds Price is often mentioned as a member of a group of outstanding Southern writers starting work in the 1960’s. A Rhodes scholar, the writer published one novel, A Long and Happy Life (1962), and one book of short stories, The Names and Faces of Heroes (1963), before publishing A Generous Man. In this second novel, Price continues the story of the Mustian family begun in A Long and Happy Life. Although he has gone on to publish several more novels and another volume of stories, often to critical acclaim, the Mustian chronicles remain his most popular works.

In some ways, Price has suffered a disadvantage in being called a “major Southern writer.” This billing and the inevitable comparison of Price’s work—especially his use of the Bible and his sense of mythology—to that of William Faulkner have hurt his efforts. Revealing much about himself in numerous interviews, Price denies any Faulknerian influence and says that he dislikes the label “major Southern writer.” His achievement in A Generous Man bears him out: Price is a very good novelist by any standards; he is also a poet, a playwright, and a well-rounded scholar, having published numerous essays on topics ranging from John Milton to the future of Southern fiction. Finally, in A Palpable God (1978), Price has translated thirty stories from the Bible, recasting them in a direct and unpretentious modern idiom; the volume also includes a fascinating essay on “The Origins and Life of Narrative.”