One of the weirdest literary phenomenon is when a writer puts out some piece of writing that just absolutely captures the attention of readers, and then there’s a follow-up scramble to capitalize on that success. In some cases, it’s downright embarrassing for those involved when say a drawerful of juvenilia gets published and ultimately kills the momentum and even sometimes the writers’ career as a consequence. Sometimes a not great second novel appears soon thereafter, and it turns out it was written long before the successful one. Chuck Palahniuk ended up making a career off the success of Fight Club and the resulting fury to publish more of his writing helped establish him with a modest, but respectable career. The success of And the Ladies of the Club led to the republishing of some not great earlier work by Helen Hoover Santmeyr soon after.
Here we have Allan Gurganus fresh off the huge success of The Oldest Confederate Widow Tells All, a book I have never read, but have been very fascinated by since we watched the made for tv miniseries based off the book at my house with Diane Lane and Donald Sutherland, and the years later when I found out it was a novel. But, it’s like 1000 pages, so it sits on the shelf for the time being.
This book is the follow-up collection that came on the heels of that book. But here’s the thing. This book is very good. It’s a collection of stories, both fiction and nonfiction (and there’s not always a clear indication which you’re dealing with) spread out over about two decades worth of publishing. Allan Gurganus was a hit with his long novel, but he was a well-known and established writer beforehand, and was championed especially by John Cheever. So the stories here are genuinely high-quality and interesting, especially given Gurganus’s personal biography of a gay man living in the South, and how those two things inform and inhabit his stories.