Twenty-five years ago, young newly-wed Molly Sullivan was at a dinner party with her in-laws. Now, dinner parties hosted by your in-laws could go several different ways. But if your father-in-law is author and literary critic Walter Sullivan, well, dinner parties just might include William Faulkner, Wendell Berry, and Walker Percy.
So I exaggerate. Walker Percy probably wasn’t there. And Faulkner was dead.
But I don’t exaggerate that much. Berry might have been there…if he had a phone to get the invite. But I digress.
At the dinner party, the topic of conversation was naturally Southern fiction. That’s what you get when your father-in-law is a founding member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. As Molly wandered from conversation to conversation, looking for something to peak her interest, she joined a conversation between Walter and Jill McCorkle. They were discussing the first line of Anna Karenina.
And thus an obsession was born. Forget the melancholy of Southern literature. This Alabama belle needed more exotic melancholy. Let’s read Tolstoy. And Dostoevsky. And Chekhov. Why not some Solzhenitsyn?
Fast forward 25 years. Last night, that Southern belle hosted her own dinner party, where we discussed Russian literature. More precisely, we discussed One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich with Solzhenitsyn’s biographer. Discussing a pivotal figure of the 20th century with someone who knew him personally? Not bad for a Tuesday evening.
I think Walter Sullivan was smiling down on his son and daughter-in-law.
And next time Joseph Pearce comes to book club, I’ll read the book.
There were even party favors!
Everyone had a Russian chocolate bar at their place,
and to find out where we were sitting, we drew a Russian saint from a hat
and found them by our plate. Kudos to Molly!