By: Jim Buford
Reviewed by: Jay Lamar
Mindbridge Press, 2010
“Luminous fiction.” “A master magician.” “Impressive.” “Superb.” These are the words of a handful of readers of Auburn-based writer Jim Buford’s latest book, The House Across the Road and Other Stories. They are also testimonials from those who know what they are talking about: writers and scholars, professionals in their fields who are not easily impressed.
But, like me, they are fans of a writer whose powers of observation, creative rendering and real gift with language give his readers joy. The House Across the Road and Other Stories, like Buford’s previous collections of essays—The Kindness of Strangers, The Best of Times, and Pie in the Sky—has these qualities in abundance.
The House Across the Road is a collection of tales set in a small rural southern community, Tucker’s Mill, during the 1940s and ’50s, when life might have seemed simpler. Linked by shared place, and in some cases, shared characters, the stories that make up this volume are their own testimonial to the fact that when human nature is involved, nothing is truly simple. From Ashley, a young boy negotiating adolescence, to his independent-minded Aunt Dottie to women who find ways to deal with loss and men who weigh local economies and political expedience against faith and the greater good, Buford gives us complex personalities deftly captured in a moment or two of action and interaction. The setting and time are crucial to the rich texture of these stories, but the human beings…well, Buford understands our nature and the trials and tribulations common to us all.
Of trials and tribulations there are aplenty in The House Across the Road, but this is not a dark book. In fact, Buford laces these stories with humor and wit and does so with such skill that our amusement is organic and large enough to embrace our own foibles. We don’t laugh at his characters so much as acknowledge our kinship with them. There is wisdom, nuance, and generosity in this writer.
Language is a particular joy in all of Buford’s work, from his essays through the new fictional narrative he uses in The House Across the Road. A master of understatement—“Woodrow and Lucia were comforted somewhat in their grief by the fact that they were both sole surviving heirs.”—Buford is also capable of quoting Carl Sandberg and Aunt Dottie in the same sentence and having Dottie sound every bit as right on as the famous poet. It is axiomatic to say that language is on the decline, but here is evidence that words matter, and, in the right hands, they give us new worlds that help us better understand our own. Nov 2010
Jay Lamar is director of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University.