An Unfinished Memoir
WHEN REYNOLDS PRICE DIED IN JANUARY 2011, he left behind one final piece of writing—two hundred candid, heartrending, and marvelously written manuscript pages about a critical period in his young adulthood. Picking up where his previous memoir, Ardent Spirits, left off, the work documents a brief time from 1961 to 1965, perhaps the most leisurely of Price’s life, but also one of enormous challenge and growth. Price gave it the title Midstream. Approaching thirty, Price writes, is to face the notion that “This is it. I’m now the person I’m likely to be . . . from here to the end.” Midstream, which begins when Price is twenty-eight, details the final youthful adventures of a man on the cusp of artistic acclaim. Here, Price chases a love to England, only to meet heartbreak. Determined to pursue other pleasures, he travels to Sweden for a friend’s wedding, then journeys to Rome with British poet Stephen Spender and spends an afternoon with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Price returns to the United States, where he finds company with a group of artists as he awaits the 1962 publication of his first novel, A Long and Happy Life.
“Few writers have made as dramatic an entrance on the American literary stage,” declared The New York Times on the book’s success. Price would settle into a tranquil life in North Carolina, buy a house, and resume teaching. Concluding with his mother’s death and Price’s new endeavors—a second novel and foray into Hollywood screenwriting—Midstream offers a poignant portrait of a man at the threshold of true adulthood, navigating new responsibilities and pleasures alike. It is a fitting bookend for Price’s remarkable career, and it reinforces his place in the pantheon of American literature.
FROM ANNE TYLER’S FOREWORD TO MIDSTREAM
“Just look at him flying across the campus, curls bouncing, dark eyes flashing, and a black cape (I swear it) flaring out behind him. Actually he never owned a black cape; he told me that, years later. He said it was a navy jacket, just tossed over his shoulders. But still, he was wearing a virtual cape, if you know what I mean. He was an exclamation point in a landscape of mostly declarative sentences. He lived in a house-trailer out in the woods; he invited us to come there and drink smoky-tasting tea in handmade mugs. Speaking with a trace of an English accent from his recent studies at Oxford (for he had a genius for unintentional mimicry, which he said could become a curse in certain situations), he told us funny, affectionate tales about his childhood in backwater Macon. Most of us came from Macons of our own; we were astonished to hear that they were fit subjects for storytelling. All over again, inspiration hit. Let us out of there! We had to get back to our rooms and start writing.”
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“What you maybe don’t know is that I always go into a decline at times like this—saying to myself that surely it would be far easier just to sit still and forget the whole thing, but then I think of a fourth consecutive year in Durham and plow on.”
—Reynolds Price, in a letter to Wallace Kaufman, July 8, 1961
AFTER DEBARKING FROM the Queen Mary and clearing customs on the Southampton dock by ten in the morning, I leapt aboard a train for Oxford with my small borrowed trunk and one suitcase. In the three years since I was last in England, British Railways had surely...see more
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