At last, good news about Chapel Hill today in The New York Times

Jan. 11, 2014 @ 09:43 AM

Finally there is good news again about Chapel Hill in The New York Times and other national media.
After raking our university over the coals last week and then blowing on those coals to keep the story alive, today’s Times turns favorable attention to our town. The Times Sunday Book Review heaps praise on “Starting Over,” the new book of short stories by Chapel Hill author Elizabeth Spencer.
The Times’ reviewer, Malcolm Jones, is the author of “Little Boy Blues,” a memoir about growing up in North Carolina.
In the concluding paragraph of the review, Jones sums up his praise for Spencer and “Starting Over.” He writes, “Elizabeth Spencer seems to have spent her life watching, observing, always paying close attention, and for her it’s the whole truth or nothing. As far as I can tell, she never missed a thing. Judging from the stories in her latest collection, she’s not about to start now.”
The Times is not alone. David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times book critic, noting Spencer’s age of 92 and long literary career, writes, “What this suggests is that, as with the imagination, there is no limit to a writer's longevity, that -- in some cases at least -- insight remains, or grows sharper, with age.
“For Spencer, that's a key consideration, since so many of the stories here are timeless, or more accurately ageless, domestic dramas that unfold in a recognizable but subtle world. The setting is North Carolina, generally (Spencer lives in Chapel Hill), and the time is the present, but it is a present largely stripped of noise and flash (consumerism, the Internet), where the most compelling dynamics unfold between parents and children, husbands and wives.”
Ulin notes that one “of the most resonant stories,” “On the Hill,” deals with a woman responsible for someone else’s child, “a neighbor boy increasingly neglected by his parents.”
But, he continues, Spencer gives no simple solution, as the story finishes “open-ended, looking outward to a future that is as inexplicable as the past.”
Jones, The New York Times reviewer, also heaps great praise on this story, which is set in and around Eltonville, Spencer’s fictional name for a town much like Chapel Hill.
Jones says “On the Hill” is “one of the best stories I have ever read.”
He continues, “Part ghost story, part whodunit, ‘On the Hill’ might have been written by Hawthorne or Cheever -- a work of genius in other words.”
The story opens when a flashy couple moves to the countryside near Chapel Hill, I mean Eltonville, and charms the local elite with parties at their impressive rural estate. By story’s end, the couple’s house is deserted and the fate of their son is a haunting mystery.
If you need more to persuade you to buy this book, get a copy of today’s New York Times and read Jones’s entire review. As he writes, “There’s nothing pat about these stories. Each manages to take you by surprise in one way or another, and there’s not a dud in the lot.”
Or you can watch Spencer talk about the new book at noon today on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch. Or you can visit her in person next Sunday afternoon 3 p.m. at Flyleaf Books when, according to store owner Jamie Fiocco, “We will serve Prosecco to toast her and Allan Gurganus and Lee Smith will give introductions for her, covering some of her best known earlier works.”
Spencer dedicated the new book to Gurganus, whom she credits with inspiration and encouragement to continue her writing career.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch.