William (Sledge) Cobb Biography
William Cobb Comments:
A strong influence, perhaps the strongest, on the structure of Harry Reunited is Robert Altman's wonderfully funny film Nashville, which I saw years ago when it was first released and have since watched countless times on video. I wanted to write a novel about a disparate group of people whose only real connection is something ephemeral—in this case a vague and distant past—whose lives touch others' lives in various ways as they pass through a sequence of events, and who are finally brought together and at the same time separated by one apocalyptic event. I did not, of course, want to retell Nashville. It had to be my own story.
Since I had not attended my own high school class's 25th reunion (I was somehow left off the invitation list; I'm still not sure what that says about me!), I was able to pose a hypothetical question to myself: What happens when a man goes back home, into an artificially created environment that attempts to mirror, even recreate, a period in his past, and he has to confront all the demons from that past? As I began to work on the novel all sorts of other nuances and themes began to appear, among them the inevitable facing of middle age, that middle passage in which we invariably begin to look both backward and forward with varying emotional consequences. And as a Southern writer, I've always been fascinated with the presence of the past, of our histories both individually and collectively, and with the notion of the abiding importance of "place," and as I wrote I found those themes emerging as well.
And I quickly fell in love with Bud Squires. Even though it's Harry's book, it is Bud's book, too, because it is he who provides the counterpoint to Harry's semi-comfortable life. It is Bud who is the avenging angel, and I was able, in a way, through my creation of Bud, to exorcise some of the guilt I suspect I still carried around with me for the cruel things I must have done in my own adolescence and which I have conveniently forgotten or blacked out. Bud became a wonderful comic character for me, a man who awakens, in varying degrees and in various startling ways, all the people in the book—and gives a kind of new life to them.
Finally, it was the comic mode that most drove me as I created this book. I very consciously wished to return to the comedy of my first novel, Coming of Age at the Y, and I wanted to paint this story with broad strokes. It is full of the kind of humor that I love, subtle and sly and almost slapstick at the same time. A humor of character. I love all these characters—Bernie Crease, as ineffectual as he is; Marie, as innocently slutty as she is; the foul-mouthed adolescents in the Sacristy before the Sunday morning service; the little black kid in the fish-net shirt; the three women at the yard sale; Cholly Polly, poor, poor Cholly Polly; Vera Babbs, the "message artist," and on and on; I love them all! That is the gift that comic writing like this gives back to the writer. I got the richest, warmest laughs of all. And I, too,—even though I was not invited—was finally reunited!
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