Friday, November 09, 2007

A Perfect Percy Paragraph

I first read Love in the Ruins around 1976 or 1977, and I think I was completely enchanted by the time I reached the second page, where the following paragraph appears. I’ve remembered it ever since as the first of many instances of Percy’s gift for portraying the deep South with a vivid and accurate sweetness very different from the work of the other big Southerners (Faulkner et.al.). In this case it’s the immediate physical sense of a summer afternoon in the damp and luxuriant Gulf Coast region, not the dusty inland a couple of hundred miles north. If you’ve read the book you’ll remember that the narrator is hiding near an interstate highway at 5pm on the fourth of July. Although he doesn’t say so, I feel safe in assuming this to be I-12, north of Lake Ponchartrain, near Covington, where Percy lived.

It is still hot as midafternoon. The sky is a clear rinsed cobalt after the rain. Wet pine growth reflects the sunlight like steel knitting needles. The grove steams and smells of turpentine. Far away the thunderhead, traveling fast, humps over the horizon like a troll. Directly above, a hawk balances on a column of air rising from the concrete geometry of the cloverleaf. Not a breath stirs.

As I was writing this, I remembered that a visit to Covington had been the subject of a Sunday Night Journal a couple of years ago. I looked it up and was amused, but not surprised, to see that I had quoted that same paragraph in it. Click here if you’re interested.