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A Long and Happy Life: A Novel Paperback – May 5, 2009

4.9 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

" A moment of truth that is art . " -- The New York Times, 1962

"Reynolds Price is the most impressive new writer I've come across in a long time. His is a first-rate talent and we are lucky that he has started so young to write so well. Here is a fine novel."
--Eudora Welty

“Few writers have made as dramatic an entrance on the American literary stage as Mr. Price.”—William Grimes, New York Times, 2011

Review

" A moment of truth that is art . " -- The New York Times, 1962 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (May 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439109346
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439109342
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #347,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Foster Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Rosacoke Mustian has been in love with Wesley Beavers since she spotted him in a pecan tree eight years ago. She has endured his stint in the U. S. Navy; and as Reynolds Price's 1961 debut novel A LONG AND HAPPY LIFE begins, Rosacoke is still in the dark as to Wesley's feelings about her as he prepares to take a job in Norfolk, Virginia selling motorcycles. Most of the rest of this near perfect short novel-- 195 pages--is about this young woman's search for love with a person who probably doesn't deserve her. Of course there is a whole passel of supporting characters in Price's story set in rural North Carolina in 1956.

Just having read Mr. Price's excellent memoir ARDENT SPIRITS where he talks at length about writing this his first novel, I wanted to reread it to see if it holds up after these many years. It does. Mr. Price gets all the details just right: from cherry Jello to Kool-Ade to the local church's Amen corner to horehound candy to a punch board (something I had not thought about in more years than I care to remember). Men get their hair cut at home by family members; and the church, of course, is central to these characters' lives regardless of how they live when they are not within its doors: whether it is an emotional African American funeral for the young Mildred and friend of Rosacoke, who died in childbirth (the opening scene of the novel) or the closing Christmas pageant in the white Delight Church where Rosacoke plays the Virgin Mary and Wesley is a less-than-enthusiastic Wise Man. The last twenty or so pages that capture this event, complete with the Christmas carols that the pageant players sang, took me back to every similar Christmas in the Baptist Church I grew up in rural East Tennessee although the characters had different names in my mind's eye.
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Format: Hardcover
This is Reynolds Price's first novel, and what a distinguished beginning it is. Wesley Beavers and Rosacoke Mustian are involved in a mating ritual, a courtship spanning six months (June to December), as they test each other out as a prelude to marriage. Rosacoke spends much of her female energy trying to get Wesley to commit himself emotionally to her, while he is satisfied merely with the physical. She gives herself to him finally (she indeed thinks of what she does as "a gift"), and by the end of the novel she knows she is pregnant and about to give Wesley another "gift" - unwanted at the time by both, but this gift of childbirth will seal their marriage. The novel is filled with opportunities for Rosacoke to handle and calm babies, which she finally succeeds in doing, as she is compelled to "grow up" and face her new responsibilities. She is not sure Wesley will be exactly what she was hoping for, but both reach a plateau of confidence that they will share "a long and happy life" together. The novel is a pastoral one, with much of it set outdoors. Price's personal writing style, which is purely his own and is amazingly powerful and exhilarating, especially in his use of similes, is established right away - a major asset. A wonderful and marvelously written first novel.
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Format: Paperback
I am somewhat surprised to see that there have been only three other reviews of this novel, which now is almost 50 years old. But then Reynolds Price seems always to fly just under the radar of the general American literary public. A LONG AND HAPPY LIFE was Price's first published novel, and since Price was not yet thirty, it seemed to promise a long and productive literary career, which by and large the years have borne out.

Price was from the Piedmont region of North Carolina, which is where A LONG AND HAPPY LIFE is set. The time is the late 1950's. The central character is Rosacoke Mustian, who is in her early twenties, an age for marrying. The leading (in truth, for Rosacoke, the one and only) candidate is Wesley Beavers, with whom she has been entranced since she was fourteen. The novel begins with a brilliant scene where Rosacoke is on the back of Wesley's motorcycle as he passes a short funeral procession, with the pine box coffin in the back of a pick-up truck and "one black boy dressed in all he could borrow set up in a ladder-back chair with flowers banked round him and a foot on the box to steady it". The coffin holds Mildred, a young black woman who was a girlhood friend of Rosacoke's and who had died in childbirth, and Wesley is driving Rosacoke to the funeral service, where she will be the one person "representing the white friends". The next day Wesley will be discharged from the Navy and it is high time for Rosacoke and Wesley to decide whether or not they will try to make a long and happy life together. The novel covers the next half year while Rosacoke and Wesley circle round and round that issue.

It is a rural community of swimming holes, church picnics, horehound candy and jello desserts, birthing-at-home with a mid-wife, and Christmas pageants.
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Format: Paperback
What a fine novel this is. First published in 1962 and Price's debut work, its freshness is still there. This is a masterpiece of language, character, place, and the inner voice. It's the story of Rosacoke Mustian growing up in an integrated rural town in North Carolina in 1956. Her family and community come to life in an instant, almost cinematically, from the opening page. The strangeness and richness of people and nature intrigue and provoke her and draw her into her inner world: her first moment seeing Wesley Beavers, her peculiar memories of Mr Isaac who is the town's rich bachelor eccentric handing out horehound candy to all the kids, memories of her tortured alcoholic father and his senseless death, memories of her brothers and their transformations. Price's writing quietly draws the reader in. Symbols abound. Events, births, deaths, comings, goings, and love take on larger meaning. "A long and happy life" is not a trifle or a passing wish. It's a rarity. In the end, one has no idea if Rosacoke will have a long and happy life or if anyone will, but the process of living has been revealed here. Masterpiece! Someone ought to write a film treatment of this story. Highly recommended. It should be on every college Twentieth Century American Literature required reading course list.
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