Sewanee: School of Letters Theses 2016


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    My Old Kentucky Home: A Maze in Grace
    (University of the South, 2016) Beard, Charles Moorman
    My Old Kentucky Home: A Maze in Grace is a lengthy, whimsical circular definition of the life of the narrator who is constantly referred to as the old man upstairs. It is a story of the old man upstairs, a semi-paralyzed, broken man living in a secret apartment above his bar called My Old Kentucky Home, who shares the journey of how he has found redemption with the purpose of his own life by observing others below him finding theirs. It is also a story that is the grand culmination of a variety of ideas, personal creative notes, and literary concepts I was exposed to and inspired by during the course of my tenure in the School of Letters. Whether it was the fictional biographical narrative style of Machado de Assis’ The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas in Forms of Fiction, the camaraderie and adventurous Arthurian motifs in The Romance of Arthur, the importance of and usage of time in Workshop in Fiction Writing, or the general topic of literary evaluation and breaking down what makes a story a good one in The Contemporary Short Story, this book pays homage to all of that and is a collage of the best that I’ve read, written, learned, and experienced at Sewanee. The narration moves between three periods of time. First, the narrator tells the entire story directly to the reader in real time, over the course of a single afternoon visit. The reader has been invited into the narrator’s secret world, literally in his living space and figuratively in his world of characters and personal history, to which nobody has previously had access. Second, the narrator begins the first part of every chapter by recounting his entire life’s journey, all the way from before birth to very personal present-day circumstances. From his birth parents, adoptive dad, childhood friends, higher education, road trips, finding love, finding family, losing love and family in a horrific tragedy, and then building himself back up with the help of friends, the old man upstairs doesn’t leave out many of the highlights and lowlights in between. Third, the second half of each chapter is the narrator sharing short stories about his favorite employees and patrons celebrating Kentucky-themed holidays, because of the bar namesake, even though every bar scene takes place in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina. Through the variety of Kentucky festivities, which include UK Basketball, March Madness, and The Kentucky Derby to name a few, the old man upstairs weaves specific tales of certain characters revealing personal stories and lessons that systematically embody how, over the course of the most recent year that has passed, he has experienced both personal growth and closure with his deepest mistakes and triumphs. As Leo Tolstoy once said, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” Not stating this novel is great literature as of yet, My Old Kentucky Home: A Maze in Grace provides both. Within the overall conversation shared between the narrator and the reader, each chapter serves as a symbolic reflection of the narrator sharing pieces of going on an epic journey and also how a stranger named Charlie came to town and helped change the old man upstairs and everyone around him into better versions of themselves. And whether it is the narrator, Charlie, any of the rest from a long list of characters, or the reader, My Old Kentucky Home: A Maze in Grace explores the broken worlds found in each person and place involved and shows a path to discover wholeness again by the end.
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    The Hollywood Mafia
    (University of the South, 2016) Ciarella, Shanna
    The Hollywood Mafia is a novel-in-progress that focuses on one woman’s desire to redeem her family’s legacy by seeking revenge on a sect of the Italian Mafia, called The Six, who took out a hit on her father when she was a teenager. Alessandra Capella enlists the help of her younger sister, Luciana, to unravel and publically expose the most secretive and successful Mafia in the history of the United States. Alessandra’s father was murdered before her eyes, and she seeks revenge with an eye-for-an-eye mentality by killing Joseph Messina the son of the Mafia boss who pulled the trigger on her father. The murder is a declaration of war against the Mafia, and she follows it with a list of demands that will cause the Mafia to choose between exposing themselves or risking the lives of those they hold most dear. Jack Pennington, Head of Security at the Vegas casino where Alessandra killed Messina, leads a massive manhunt for Alessandra, but Jack isn’t the only person seeking answers. Messina and his friends, members of a group known as The Hollywood Mafia, are tabloid darlings, which causes his murder to make headlines around the world. Soon his death becomes fodder for entertainment blogs and gossip magazines, and the world watches as confidential and shocking information about the killing is exposed. In a time where the media and paparazzi control much of the way the world sees certain events, it is up to Jack protect the evidence and find the killer. The novel takes a cinematic approach to storytelling with Alessandra, Luciana, Jack, The Six, and The Hollywood Mafia all serving as stars. Las Vegas, brimming with seduction and sin, co-stars and serves as a reminder that what happens in Vegas does not always stay in Vegas. As with any mafia story, the book explores motifs of family, power, greed, redemption, and retribution, but it does so from a female’s perspective in what has historically been a man’s world. Alessandra wants to turn that world upside down and utilizes all of her assets, some legal and some otherwise, to rise to power in the Mafia and to eventually become the first female Don.
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    Components of Transformation: Exploring Memory, Humility, and Sacrament To Find Resolution in the Novels of Walker Percy
    (University of the South, 2016-05) Anderson, William Case
    The aim of this study is to investigate the nature of protagonistic transformation in the six novels of Walker Percy. Because Percy’s works of fiction are so notedly open-ended, and because the final spiritual, emotional, and existential condition of the main character so often eludes easy categorization, the task is a tall one, and this perhaps explains why Percy scholars who touch on the subject tend to do so peripherally as a component of a broader analysis. But Percy’s writings, both fiction and non-fiction, pointedly confront “the fate of the individual,” and thus a closer examination of the topic is overdue. Moreover, by exploring the transformations of Percy’s protagonists, we cultivate a greater understanding of these novels’ enigmatic endings and a deeper sense of their meanings as a whole. During my research, it became evident that temporal and thematic frameworks guide each of Percy’s main characters in their transformations. The temporal contains three distinct phases for the protagonist. The first is a kind of oblivious existence in which he merely goes through the motions of his life unaware of the possibility of finding import beyond the superficial or material. Next, after being unexpectedly jolted out of his existential languor, the protagonist confronts an unsustainable but critical period of seeking or wandering, a search for meaning which results in the collection of knowledge and experience. The final phase marks the transition into a new life of spiritual awareness, and even if this change is inchoate and hardly perceptible by the final page, it completes the transformation of the character within the confines of the text. The thematic framework is tripartite as well—although the components occur in no particular sequence in the novels. One component is memory: the protagonist must confront a troubling or even previously unknown element of his past in order to move beyond its limitations into a new life absent the crippling burden of his personal history. Another is humility, namely in the sense that he must learn to put others or God before himself; he must abandon the solipsistic outlook that has characterized his existence heretofore. The final element is sacrament, which performs its greatest role at the end of the novel, serving to seal the transformation of the protagonist into a new understanding of his life and the world around him. In the chapters that follow, I apply the temporal and thematic frameworks to each of Percy’s novels chronologically, proceeding in this order: The Moviegoer (1961), The Last Gentleman (1966), Love in the Ruins (1971), Lancelot (1977), The Second Coming (1980), and The Thanatos Syndrome (1987). What we ultimately discover about Binx Bolling, Will Barrett, Tom More, and Lancelot Lamar is that they are more dynamic characters than is often presumed and, further, that these novels are more resolved than they are generally given credit for being. (Percy’s two sequels account for there being only four total protagonists.) Of course, endings are only beginnings in Percy’s fiction, but while we leave these characters at a point of uncertainty at the end of each text, they are undoubtedly better equipped to lead fulfilling, purposeful, spiritual lives, as will be shown. Transformation occurs in these novels, even if ambiguously on the surface, and this capacity for change renders the prevailing sentiment of the books undeniably optimistic, at least in this reader’s eyes. And if we look closely enough, we may at least approach the mystery at the heart of Percy’s fiction that, as his characters also discover, remains necessarily just beyond our reach.
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    Lena in Lent and Other Stories
    (University of the South, 2016-05) Karns, Janet Patterson
    “Lena in Lent and Other Stories,” a collection of eight pieces of short fiction, explores ideas of desire, agency, obligation, faith, isolation, and community. The first four stories in the collection, the Lena stories, center on the life of a young woman as she struggles to navigate the waters of conflicting self-interests. The stories spotlight four episodes in one year of Lena’s life, from summer to spring, and her long awakening to the truths of where both her own agency and her own passivity have brought her. “Mildred Corey” observes a day in the life of a seventy-something woman experiencing frustration and displacement in her later years, annoyed by the ever-presence of her retired husband, and preoccupied with her disappointing relationship with a mostly absent daughter. (Mildred is a minor character in “Lena in Lent,” the third Lena story, but “Mildred Corey” is roughly concurrent with “Lena in Summer.”) “May Belle” is the story of a recently widowed young truck-stop waitress barely keeping it together to parent her young son as she grapples with grief, anger, isolation, and near poverty. When her son’s behavior at school begins to deteriorate, contributing to stresses at work, May Belle reaches a breaking point. “Hershey” is a coming-of-age story about a girl who spends many idyllic summers with her grandparents in the country before her grandfather’s descent into mental illness and her own ascent into adolescence herald the end of the era. “Drew Tyler,” the final piece in the collection, follows a twelve-year-old boy in his quest to replace his sister’s destroyed birthday cake, the latest casualty in his mother’s onslaught of “diabolical tricks.”