William Price Fox Christopher Lehmann-Haupt - Essay

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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.∗