Perdue, Tito 1938-
Perdue, Tito 1938-
Born 1938, in Sewell, Chile; son of an electrical engineer; married Judy Clark, 1957; children: Melanie. Education: Attended Antioch College, 1956-57; University of Texas, B.A., 1961; Indiana University, M.L.S., M.A., 1968.
Home—Brent, AL. E-mail—[email protected].
Writer. Assistant bookkeeper in New York, NY, 1959-60; insurance underwriter in New York, NY, 1961-62; worked for University of Iowa Libraries, 1968-70; Iowa State University, Ames, social sciences bibliographer, 1970-80; State University of New York at Binghamton Library, assistant director, 1980-82; Emory University Library, Atlanta, GA, associate director, 1982-83; novelist, 1983—.
Lee: A Novel, 4 Walls 8 Windows (New York, NY), 1991.
The New Austerities (prequel to Lee), Peachtree Publishers (Atlanta, GA), 1994.
Opportunities in Alabama Agriculture: A Novel, Baskerville Publishers (Dallas, TX), 1994.
The Sweet-Scented Manuscript, Baskerville Publishers (Fort Worth, TX), 2004.
Fields of Asphodel, Overlook Press (New York, NY), 2007.
Novelist Tito Perdue, wrote a contributor to the South Carolina Book Festival Web site, "was born in 1938 in Chile, South America, where his father, an Alabama native, was employed as an electrical engineer with the Braden Copper Company." He won notoriety in 1956 when he "was admitted to Antioch College in Ohio," declared a writer for Authors den.com, "an institution from which he was expelled in 1957 for having cohabited off-campus with the former Judy Clark, also an Antioch student. They were married later that year, both at age eighteen, and are together still." The incident is chronicled in Perdue's novel The Sweet-Scented Manuscript. After a varied career, including stints as an assistant bookkeeper and insurance underwriter in New York City, Perdue earned a degree in library science and worked for Iowa State University, the State University of New York at Binghamton, and Emory University as a librarian. "He was discharged from [the latter] position in early 1983 as a result of policy disagreements," the South Carolina Book Festival Web site contributor continued, "and opted to devote himself full-time thereafter to novel writing." The published results include Lee: A Novel, The New Austerities (a prequel to Lee), Opportunities in Alabama Agriculture: A Novel, The Sweet-Scented Manuscript, and Fields of Asphodel.
"Tito Perdue's first published novel, Lee, follows one Leland Pefley," declared a reviewer writing for the Lemuria Books Web site, "a septuagenarian misanthrope disgusted with the decadence of modern times, on his return to his native Alabama. With a head full of literature (12,000 volumes, by his count), a self-bestowed ‘Dr.’ before his name and a heavy cane, he wanders through his hometown, his only companion the recurring specter of his dead wife, Judy. Over the course of the book, he beats several people with his cane, urinates through a car window and burns down a house." The problem with this summary, according to Anne Whitehouse in the New York Times Book Review, is that many—perhaps even most—of these incidents may have happened only in Lee Pefley's own mind. "The reader," she wrote, "gradually comes to realize that these acts are figments of the main character's profoundly disturbed psyche." "Lee fancies himself a chastiser of humanity, satirist of the New South, a self-ordained Nietzschean prophet," declared a Publishers Weekly reviewer, but he comes across as a self-deluded snob. Eventually the aged Pefley wanders off into the woods to die, presumably, of exposure.
In The New Austerities, we see part of the story of how Lee Pefley became the character first encountered in Lee. Pefley, working in New York City in insurance (as Perdue had done), has become disgusted with modern life and desires to return to a simpler, quieter time in his native Alabama. Accompanied by his wife, Judy (whom we had only seen as a specter in Lee), Pefley heads south—only to discover, as he encounters a South sprinkled with video stores and leavened with encounter groups, that the world he seeks continually eludes him. The New Austerities, declared a Publishers Weekly reviewer, is enlivened by Perdue's "magically evocative descriptive powers, pungent wit and iconoclastic point of view." "Those who read Lee," the reviewer concluded, "will find this look at the hero's earlier life especially poignant."
The Sweet-Scented Manuscript takes Lee's story back even further—to his college days in the 1950s, when he first meets his beloved Judy. In a scene drawn from Perdue's own life, Lee goes to a liberal Northern college (based on Antioch College, Perdue's own alma mater), meets and falls in love with Judy, and then is expelled for the expression of that love. He goes on to find his first job, all the time trying to cope with an alien culture and indifferent people who do not share his values and do not understand him. "Tito Perdue," declared a reviewer for the Baskerville Publishers Web site, "writes so evocatively of this vanished time, so wisely about differences of age, background and culture, and so movingly of feelings that are timeless."
Opportunities in Alabama Agriculture goes even further back into Pefley history, taking as its theme the life and death of Lee Pefley's grandfather Ben. In post-Civil War Alabama, Ben leaves his own father, who has surrendered to dementia, and heads off to find his fortune. He seems to find it through marriage to a land-rich widow, but that relationship launches new complications. By the time of his death in 1936, Ben has had to raise six children and to deal with issues ranging from thieves to the environmental and economic problems of the Great Depression. Ben "seems a Forrest Gump-like innocent at the novel's outset," a Publishers Weekly reviewer commented, "but Perdue wryly charts his protagonist's growing maturity and breadth of vision."
Perdue returns to Lee Pefley's life—or, more accurately, his afterlife—in Fields of Asphodel. Lee wakes up after his death basically the same person he was in Lee: jaded, cynical, and misanthropic. The place where he awakens is hauntingly familiar as well; it "bears a faint resemblance to his native Alabama," stated a writer for Publishers Weekly, "except the sun seems paperlike, seasons don't work the way they should, and it's very cold." After he realizes that he has died, Lee's objective is simple: to find Judy and be reunited with her. He wanders through the landscape, sometimes encountering other lost souls, sometimes moving by himself. "Lee is so prickly, uncompromising, and thoroughly unlikable," opined Library Journal reviewer Jim Dwyer, "that his constant frustrations, travails, and hardships are a source of guilty pleasure." Over time, Lee "comes to understand the world that he had navigated, both before and after death," a Kirkus Reviews contributor explained, "and to recognize what had been important to him before he became a jaded old man."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2007, review of Fields of Asphodel.
Library Journal, September 15, 1991, Janet Ingraham, review of Lee: A Novel, p. 112; May 1, 1994, Harold Augenbraum, review of The New Austerities, p. 138; November 1, 1994, Robert Jordan, review of Opportunities in Alabama Agriculture: A Novel, p. 112; June 15, 2007, Jim Dwyer, review of Fields of Asphodel, p. 57.
New York Times Book Review, November 24, 1991, Anne Whitehouse, review of Lee, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, June 28, 1991, review of Lee, p. 86; April 11, 1994, review of The New Austerities, p. 56; October 17, 1994, review of Opportunities in Alabama Agriculture, p. 63; May 14, 2007, review of Fields of Asphodel, p. 33.
Authorsden.com,http://www.authorsden.com/ (May 22, 2008), "Tito Perdue."
Baskerville Publishers Web site,http://www.baskervillepublishers.com/ (May 22, 2008), author profile and review of The Sweet-Scented Manuscript.
Lemuria Books Web site,http://lemuriabooks.blogspot.com/ (May 22, 2008), "Tito Perdue Review in the LA Times."
South Carolina Book Festival Web site,http://www.scbookfestival.org/ (May 22, 2008), review of Fields of Asphodel.