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I said that I thought that one of the problems, in part, that the novel was working out was the Southern race problem.

Mr. Price agreed. "It turns out to be definitely. Mabry returns to North Carolina and there's the racial thing, facing him again. And too, his father -- Tasker -- has left the house to Audrey and Mabry makes this extraordinary request that somehow he'll give the house to Audrey but reserve a room for him. Just in case he's going to need somebody eventually. He's definitely going to need somebody.

"I tried to make Audrey, I tried to make that character at least, not be Tasker's caretaker. I tried to make her Hispanic because Hispanic people now live all around my home. And my whole part of northeastern North Carolina, there's a great many Hispanic people -- they've come there to work on the farms. I tried to make her an Hispanic woman. I wrote a few pages that way and it didn't work. I didn't know exactly how I thought Hispanic people behaved, so I thought, 'There's no way around this, it's going to be an African-American woman.' "

I had wondered, I said, if Audrey's son was also Tasker's son. He wasn't, said Mr. Price. He added, "I think it is hard for anyone who hasn't lived in that world to understand us. When I was born in Warren County, North Carolina, which in my mind is where this novel occurs, I was born into a county that had an almost 70 percent black population. I was born in 1933 and I knew in my childhood, very closely indeed because they worked in our family home, that I needed two people who were infants when the Civil War ended. Nowadays if I tell my students that they'll look at me as though, you know, I were born during the Black Plague in Europe in the 13th Century or something. But it wasn't nearly as long ago as we'd like to believe. As an institution. And reconstruction was really a hundred years ago."

We talked about the southern meals in Mr. Price's novel. "You are so bad," I said, "You put ham in everything. And you serve ham biscuits at almost every meal."

"You couldn't even begin to sit down to a proper meal without ham on the table."

"And you have the ham sliced paper-thin."

"Just right, thin enough to read through."

"Southern writers have terrific material with which to work."

"I know. We're still mighty lucky in relation to that whole world we came out of."

I asked then what I ask many interview subjects, "Is there something you wish I'd asked you that I didn't ask?"

There was. "Do I like it?" said Mr. Price, and proceeded to answer his own question. "I like it a lot. I don't reject any of my novels. I don't reject any of them. I own up to all my children, but this is in my own list of favorites.

"You never tell who your favorite child is, but in my list of children, I would put this pretty high. I don't want to say it's an old man's novel, despite the fact that I'm 72, but I think it's different from a number of my other novels. I wanted it to be like an arrow going to a target. You know, very direct, and while the story and the plot are by no means uncomplicated, I do feel that emotionally I wanted it to be like an arrow going to a target and I worked hard to try to do that. To me it feels like that."

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