Clyde Edgerton: Vietnam Vet, Jet Pilot, and . . . Small Town Housewife
Few men have attempted to write using a woman's voice. Those who do choose to use the persona of a woman often fail in their effort, creating a character who does not quite sound authentic. Critics usually note the author's inadequacies and point out difficulties when an author tries to capture the voice of a person of the opposite gender. One exception is Clyde Edgerton in his first novel, Raney. The voice of Raney seems genuine and Edgerton received great acclaim for his novel. Public acceptance of Edgerton speaking as a young woman may be attributed to a number of factors involving the attitudes of the author, of the character, and of critics.
Those who have interviewed Edgerton and reviewed his books are nearly all men. The one notable exception is author Barbara Kingsolver, who reviewed The Floatplane Notebooks in the New York Times Book Review. Not only does she neglect to take Edgerton to task for his use of a woman narrator in part of that novel, but she praises him generously and compares him to Jane Austen. Kingsolver obviously feels Edgerton can speak creditably as a woman, and she goes so far as to feel he is worthy to keep company with highly respected woman authors.
Another consideration may be that most critics have not yet found Edgerton. Raney was his first novel and he has not written another entirely from a womanþs point of view. His later works usually rotate among a large number of narrators, from a delinquent teenage boy to a wisteria vine in a family cemetery to a determined dog. If he had persisted in focusing upon women narrators as he became better known, he might have attracted more attention for that aspect of his work.
Edgertonþs attitude may help explain his ability to write as a woman with accuracy. When questioned about using a womanþs voice, he invariably gives credit to the women of his large extended family. In an interview with Thomas Kozikowski, Edgerton explains that he grew up amid a crowd of twenty-three aunts and uncles, and the family gathered often for meals. While the uncles formed a taciturn group on the porch, the aunts filled the kitchen with lively conversation, gossip, and family stories. Edgerton gravitated to the kitchen and listened eagerly to his convivial aunts. He paints such a loving picture of these inspirational ladies that he seems entitled to be included in their circle. Perhaps his good intentions shine through in the character of Raney.
Edgerton himself adds one disturbing note about his writing as a woman, however. In an interview with Kenn Robbins, Edgerton stated that his chief worry in creating the character Raney was that she did not seem to be defined clearly enough as a woman. In an attempt to show readers that Raney is a real woman, he went back through the manuscript and added several places where Raney mentions having her hair done. That statement should raise a few eyebrows. Although...