Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Putting it together again

More than two dozen chapters were eliminated, broken apart or rearranged in the posthumous editing of Agee's homage to his childhood in Knoxville in the early 1900s — a story punctuated by his father's death in a car crash.

Now, in the first volume of a planned 10-volume set of Agee's collected works and letters, the University of Tennessee Press has published a more richly detailed and chronological narrative that may be truer to Agee's plan. The result could be a revelation to readers puzzled by the book's jumbled italicized flashbacks and incongruous prologue — the poetic and previously published essay "Knoxville: Summer of 1915."

Under the original edits, Agee's father became less of an individual and more of a universal parent. And a succession of copy editors turned a deaf ear to Agee's keen sense of "East Tennessee" dialect. In one of hundreds of entries, "bran new" became "brand new," for example.

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