Clyde Carlyle Edgerton Biography
Nationality: American. Born: Durham, North Carolina, 1944. Education: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, B.A. 1966, M.A.T., 1972, Ph.D. 1977. Military Service: U.S. Air Force, 1967-71, piloted reconnaissance and forward air control missions in Southeast Asia during Vietnam War; received Distinguished Flying Cross. Career: English teacher, Southern High School, Durham, North Carolina, 1972-73; codirector, English Teaching Institute, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1976; associate professor, Campbell University, Buies Creek, North Carolina, 1977-81, associate professor of education and psychology, 1981-85; associate professor of English and education, St. Andrews Presbyterian College, Laurinburg, North Carolina, 1985-89; full-time writer, 1989—. Awards: Guggenheim fellow, 1989; Lyndhurst fellow, 1991. Agent: Liz Darhansoff, 1220 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10128, U.S.A.
Raney. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Algonquin Books, 1985.
Walking Across Egypt. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, AlgonquinBooks, 1987.
The Floatplane Notebooks. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, AlgonquinBooks, 1988.
Killer Diller. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Algonquin Books, 1991.
In Memory of Junior: A Novel. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, AlgonquinBooks, 1992.
Redeye: A Western. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Algonquin Books, 1995.
Pete and Shirley: The Great Tar Heel Novel (serial novel, with others), edited by David Perkins. Asheboro, North Carolina, Down Home Press, 1995.
Where Trouble Sleeps: A Novel. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, AlgonquinBooks, 1997.
Understanding the Floatplane (chapbook). Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Mud Puppy Press, 1987.
Cold Black Peas (chapbook). Chapel Hill, North Carolina, MudPuppy Press, 1990.
Contributor, Weymouth: An Anthology of Poetry, edited by Sam Ragan. Laurinburg, North Carolina, St. Andrews Press, 1987.
Contributor, Family Portraits: Remembrances by Twenty Distinguished Writers, edited by Carolyn Anthony. New York, Doubleday, 1989.
Contributor, New Stories from the South: The Year's Best, 1990, edited by Shannon Ravenel. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Algonquin Books, 1990.
Contributor, Books of Passage: 27 North Carolina Writers on the Books That Changed Their Lives, edited by David Perkins, illustrated by David Terry. Asheboro, North Carolina, Down Home Press, 1997.
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Clyde Edgerton burst on to the literary scene with his first work, Raney, in 1985. His subsequent works have been no less well-received, and Edgerton has continued to write equally interesting and controversial works such as Walking Across Egypt, The Floatplane Notebooks, Killer Diller, In Memory of Junior, Redeye: A Western, and his latest work, Where Trouble Sleeps. Edgerton's novels focus upon a variety of issues and present an array of intriguing characters, yet throughout his works, which are generally set in the South, the themes of hypocrisy, religion, and love emerge as pivotal elements.
Hypocrisy appears as a major theme in all of Edgerton's works. Raney illustrates the hypocrisy of the small, southern town, Listre, South Carolina, by relating the story through the perspective its naïve, female character, Raney. Her simplistic and often narrow view of the world forms the core of the novel. Because of the realism with which Edgerton imbues his characters, readers clearly understand, even if they do not always agree with, the perspective of such Southerners as Raney. Indeed, Raney's family's desperate desire to hide or to reform unacceptable relatives such as Uncle Nate demonstrates the hypocritical behavior of families such as Raney's. In Where Trouble Sleeps, Alease Toomey struggles to maintain the sobriety of her brother, Raleigh, who is an alcoholic veteran. She loves him, yet throughout the text, Alease agonizes over his state, not only for his health, but also for the bad reputation that he might bring to the family. This kind of double-edged, hypocritical simultaneous acceptance and condemnation of such characters becomes a mainstay of Edgerton's work.
Edgerton again explores hypocrisy in the image of the new Southerner. Raney's newlywed husband, Charles, who prides himself on enlightenment and progressiveness as a new Southern liberal, treats Raney's less-educated relatives in the same manner that he has seen whites treat blacks. He looks down on her family, viewing them as narrow-minded bumpkins, and he eagerly takes any opportunity to avoid spending extended amounts of time with them. Unfortunately, he never understands that he is guilty of the very kind of behavior that he so vociferously condemns in her relatives.
In Killer Diller Edgerton once again depicts characters mired in hypocrisy. The twin administrators of the small Baptist college in Listre, Ned and Ted Sears, cultivate devout and sincere public faces, yet all the while they work to enrich themselves by conducting shady business deals in the name of the college and the town.
Throughout his novels, characters such as those previously mentioned and those like Reverend Crenshaw in Where Trouble Sleeps and sisters Bette and Ansie in In Memory of Junior further illustrate Edgerton's attention to the hypocrisy apparent in Southern culture.
While hypocrisy is one of Edgerton's elemental themes, so too is religion. In all of Edgerton's works, a series of scenes convey his preoccupation with the Southern need to share what is right from what is wrong. These moral dictums often take the form of religious discussions. Such discussions generally occur between two to three characters who address a multitude of religious precepts from a conservative, southern Baptist view. To convey additional elements of the theme of religion, Edgerton employs the tempted or fallen pastor as an important character in his work.
In Memory of Junior contains a scene that illustrates the Southern preoccupation with God and religion. While hunting, Faison and Jimmy begin a discussion about killing animals. During the conversation, Jimmy begins to question the existence of God, and Faison shares his view of religious issues. This in-depth conversation lasts several pages until Faison shifts the conversation to a lighter subject.
In Raney, religion becomes a focal point of the text. Raney's insular view of what is and is not acceptable religious practice comes to light when Charles's mother, an Episcopalian, discusses her church traditions. To Raney, her mother-in-law's practices appear scandalous. Along with these discussions about the Episcopalians, she and Charles argue frequently about her views regarding sin and salvation. These religious discussions become a central part of many of Edgerton's works.
While religious discussions appear in Edgerton's novels, so too do characters who typify the fallen Christian. In Where Trouble Sleeps Reverend Crenshaw is tempted by Cheryl Daniels and almost falls prey to the blackmail scheme of the unscrupulous Jack Umstead, a.k.a. Delbert Jones. The Sears twins in Killer Diller further reflect this character of the fallen holy man when they plan university activities based not upon enhancing the lives of people within their community, but of selecting activities that provide good public relations opportunities. None of the author's fallen Christian characters appear to gain redemption by changing their behaviors. They remain corrupt throughout the works. Edgerton's novels depict religion as it is often actualized in the South—full of opinions and full of contradictions.
While hypocrisy and religion play significant roles in the Edgerton's work, the theme of love cannot be overlooked. Throughout his works, familial love, romantic love, and love of fellow humans transcends the pitfalls of the imperfect characters. Indeed, the love depicted may at times seem oddly termed as love, yet it is the kind of love reflective of reality. In Where Trouble Sleeps Mrs. Clark, the church receptionist, loves her husband, Claude T., yet she fears that he will go to hell because of his preoccupation with his Cadillac and diamond ring. In the same novel, Alease Harvey dotes on her son, Stephen, cares for her alcoholic brother, and pines for her overworked husband.
In Raney love again permeates the text. Raney, though married and living away from home, maintains strong ties to her younger siblings, her older relatives, and to her parents. She spends time with her younger sister and brother, and she would never dream of not being an integral part of their lives. Raney's family is large, loud, and expressive while her husband's family is small, quiet, and reserved. Both families, though, display deep love for their members, yet their different styles of communicating this love lead to many troubles within Charles's and Raney's relationship. Ultimately, however, during Raney and Charles's first year of married life, the couple embarks upon rough waters that are calmed by the love that they develop and the respect which they eventually gain for each other and for each one's family.
In Memory of Junior the character Faison holds such a great love for his wife's son that upon the child's death, Faison purchases a grave marker that has Faison's name with Jr. appended to replace the one that his wife, June Lee, has ordered with the child's legal name engraved upon it. Even though the child's paternity is uncertain, Faison loves this child tremendously. Toward the end of the text, June Lee and Faison read the child's journal from school in which he has written about the good times that he has shared with Faison. This touching scene reflects the love that the youngster possesses for his stepfather.
Edgerton's works vividly depict small town communities of the South without relying upon stereotypes or belittling the dignity of the characters. Edgerton shows the South as it is, warts and all. He creates realistic and well-developed characters who represent the contemporary every man. These characters display unceasing hypocrisy, a well-entrenched interest in religion, and many kinds of love which make Edgerton's characters realistic, interesting, and perplexing, all at the same time. Edgerton's works leave readers with the desire to always read more about these characters, who like many of our relatives, trouble, interest, and enlighten us.
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