VIEWSnWith the deaths of Robert Penn Warren and Walker Percynthe specter of the star system is loose again in the land.n”Who will be their successors? Who will pick up theirnmantle?” It’s a plaintive cry, predictable but genuine,nlargely journalistic and academic—a spume from the wavenof canon-making — thinned by its basis in literary politics. Itnisn’t cast up, usually, by writers, at least not those writing,nsince their attention is centered elsewhere. They do lament,nof course, the passing of the likes of Percy and Warren, somengrieving the loss of the men more than the art. The living,nhowever, aren’t meant to supplant the dead, but to fulfillntheir own destinies.nAt a festival honoring his work in 1985, Fred Chappellnwas asked how it felt to be a Southern writer. “You’ve got toncome from somewhere,” he replied. “Not everyone can benborn in the Museum of Modern Art.” The breadth ofnreference in the apothegm, as well as the choices thatnChappell has made as a writer that underlie it, make it hardnto dismiss the answer as flippant. It suggests in partnChappell’s refusal to play the star-system game, to kowtownto the power centers of publication (fortunately dispersing),nto court reviewers. It also points to the substantial shift innChappell’s work over the past thirty years.nAfter trying on ill-fitting European costumes (Rimbaud,nMann), a Faustian sort of bargaining with interior devilsnthat took derivative forms, he began facing and learning tonbe himself, developing his poems and stories and novelsnalong lines laid out in his regional upbringing. This hasninvolved a complex of emphases and engagements at a deepnlevel of choice. Two of those seem pertinent here.nChappell’s erudition, his extensive reading, his sophisticationnabout fiction and about what can be done in generalnwith language, are meant not to replace storytelling and itsnillusions of character, but to serve them, to deepen andnenrich. In the history of our literature we may be in thenmuddled midst of learning this again. No compellingnnovelist has written without a complex theoretical sense ofnwhat he or she is doing, but that theory becomes part ofnsubject matter at the desiccation of the fiction. There arenother major differences, of course, between Chappell’s firstnfour novels, and the work that begins with Midquest, butnthis one seems basic: he has chosen to be “unmodern” in hisnsubordination of theoretical concerns to the immediatenfabric of the work itself. We see the rug, not the weave in thenrug.nSecondly, he has chosen to be a comic writer. It’s not mynplace here to define “Southern,” but Chappell’s work hasncertain characteristics that have, over the centuries, come tonbe associated with the region. Humor, thank God, transcendsngeographical and national boundaries. Chappell’s,nhowever, is Southern in its pace—I don’t mean timing, butnrather the accretive, almost shy way good will hides itselfnbehind slyness. Southerners have had to become used tonliving with poisonous snakes and excessive heat, and thenadaptation that has required leads to the kind of humor I’mnalluding to. Joe Robert Kirkman, the central figure inn16/CHRONICLESnnnChappell’s last two novels, is an embodiment of this, comingnto accept his difficult, discommoded self through the warmthnof laughter not at, but with, who he is. A single passagencan’t do justice to this because it builds; ]oe Robert’sncolloquy with the goat on the schoolhouse roof, his interviewnwith Dora Stoner, or his growing realization that no matternhow hard he tries he can’t tell a lie, are revealing instances innBrighten the Corner Where You Are.nThis involves tone as much as detail or behavior. AnSoutherner plays verbally as part of everyday life. I’ve alwaysnbeen leery of the glibness with which people present thenSouth as distinctive because it’s the only part of the countrynto have lost a war, to have endured an enemy’s ravaging anland and degrading an entire heritage. But I have come tonthink that experience has contributed to a sense of the gentlenundoing of solemnity that is sometimes part of a Southerner’sntone of voice.nBlacks have contributed to this, too. There have been twonslave races in the South, in the sense that the loss of the CivilnWar reduced white people of all classes to a similarnhumiliation. Being at the bottom can teach one to see dailynexistence from a wider perspective and to spread its intensitynacross that horizon.nPace, heat, the experience of a beaten people, then,ncontribute to the humor of the South. They also, paradoxically,nlead to focus and concentration, other qualities centralnto Chappell’s work. Hunkerin’ down some people call it, annexpression that I’ve always liked for its inclusion of the bodynand the earth in the act of mental concentration. It’s also annuncomfortable position to get into. Chappell’s charactersnhunker; they pay attention, often out of the corners of theirneyes. Here’s a relevant passage from one of Chappell’snstories, “Blue Dive.” Stovebolt Johnson, a blues guitarist,nhas returned to rural North Carolina after a stretch in thenslammer. He decides to wait on the porch of the house he hasncome to to ask for information. He sits down with his coffee,nhis guitar lying beside him in its case.nHe had been reflecting that if he was a woman’snhusband driving up from work at noontime henmight not be overcome with joy to find a strangenman and a guitar in his house. He spat out hisnchew of tobacco and worked up all the juice hencould and spat that out, too. The first sip of coffeenhe wallowed about in his mouth, rinsing, and thenngot rid of. He ‘d known any number of men whoncould chew and drink at the same time, but he’dnnever got the hang of it. He took a swallow. It wasnstrong and sweet as molasses. “You mama makes anfine cup of coffee,” he said to the boy. “What kindnof music do you like to listen?” He took the guitarnout and fingered a few aimless notes.nBut the notes are no more aimless than the passage. This isnalmost ritual. It involves a third characteristic I see asnespecially Southern — courtesy. Tony Hillerman admires thenpractice of the Navajo in which a visitor to a hogan keeps an