cover image Learning a Trade: A Craftsman's Notebooks: 1955-1997

Learning a Trade: A Craftsman's Notebooks: 1955-1997

Reynolds Price, Reynolds Price, Price. Duke University Press, $84.95 (624pp) ISBN 978-0-8223-2112-5

The complex dynamics of Price's creative process--complete with stops and re-starts, repetitions and second thoughts-- are illustrated in impressive detail in the publication, virtually uncut, of the acclaimed novelist, playwright and poet's working notebooks. From the genesis of his first novel, A Long and Happy Life, through the NBCC Award-winner Kate Vaiden and beyond, the notebooks show the writer outlining themes, experimenting with opening lines, sorting out the characters' chronologies--carrying on an internal dialogue designed to hone his intentions and technique. The long sections devoted to the Mayfield family trilogy (The Surface of Earth; The Source of Light; The Promise of Rest) illuminate how Price takes autobiographical material and alters it to suit his artistic purposes. Mentions of delivery dates and contract negotiations spotlight the business of publishing; Price is notable as an author whose loyalty for decades was to a publishing house (Atheneum) rather than to an individual editor, and the entries suggest that his primary professional relationship has been with his agent, Harriet Wasserman. The writer's fabled discretion about his private life lifts just enough to hint that readers can safely take the bisexual Hutch Mayfield as a close match for his creator, and scattered references to famous friends from Eudora Welty to James Taylor provide breaks from the occasionally daunting density of the work-related material. The dearth of explanatory annotation makes individual sections nearly incomprehensible if one has not read the title in question, but scholars and readers familiar with Price's books will find his notebooks to be an invaluable resource. (Dec.)