Congratulations to Ray Olson for his review of Kings Row (“Kings Row Revisited,” Vital Signs, June), book and film, and his insight into how the movie slights the book’s theme of community.  There is a big subject here.  Community has been central to Southern literature.  The community—Yoknapatawpha—is the true central character of Faulkner’s fiction, as Port William is of Wendell Berry’s.  These works reflect belonging, allegiance, and service to one’s locality, something unknown to the modern alienated artist and intellectual.  Many other examples could be cited.  Does Mr. Olson know James Gould Cozzens, for my money the best American novelist of the 20th century who was not a Southerner?  His By Love Possessed (1957) is about a man’s sacrificial love for his community, and the film (1961), while changing some elements of the novel, manages to preserve that theme.  Cozzens’ other great novel, Guard of Honor, though set in the ersatz community of a World War II military base, reflects some of the same elements.

—Clyde Wilson

Columbia, SC

Mr. Olson Replies:

Dr. Wilson reassures me that I did not write in vain.  There is a community-loving strain of American fiction, and I wonder whether it might be more fully rediscovered if one plumbed the best-seller lists before 1960.  Both Owen Wister and Booth Tarkington, to cite just two writers besides Henry Bellamann who knew the value of creating and maintaining stable communities, are to be found on them.  To answer Dr. Wilson’s question, I have long known of Cozzens because I was a child literary historian, which was considerably less strenuous and more rewarding than being a teenage werewolf, I believe.  I haven’t read Cozzens, however, though now I shall.  The late James W. Tuttleton made this piquant comment about Cozzens in his The Novel of Manners in America (1972): “The conservatism of Cozzens is a thorn in the side of many of his critics.”  Why haven’t I read him already?