On Saturday, I was given the opportunity to have breakfast with Charlie Smith. As I sat waiting for Charlie, eager to discuss his new book, Three Delays, I thought of our first meeting years before. It was at the Low Country Writers Conference, where it was the general consensus by the faculty, mostly English department heads of Southern Universities, which included such notables as George Garrett, that Charlie was heir apparent to William Faulkner.
A waitress clanked a coffee cup on the table and woke me out of my daydream.
"Are you expecting somebody?" the young woman asked in a monotone New York accent.
"I am," I said as I watched Charlie slowly saunter into the restaurant, a broad smile on his face.
When I saw him, my thoughts drifted back to our first meeting, years before. I had been invited to a conference in South Carolina, where I was to lecture novelists about the pitfalls of translating novels into screenplays. Coming from the non-academic movie side, I felt that I was out of my league. For those who were inside the literary league, it was apparent that the reclusive Charlie Smith had been crowned their king. I sat on the veranda of an old southern inn that evening, overlooking the Beaufort, S.C. bay, and I found myself listening to the unanimous agreement that had been reached by numerous professors. Mr. Smith was brilliant, they all said. And they were right.
It was nearing dinnertime on that hot, August evening, when I decided to call a cab and leave the event in search of dinner. Minutes later, my ride pulled up and out of nowhere, a man about my age ran up to the cab and jumped in. Disheveled and wearing wire-rimmed glasses, he invited me to share his taxi. It was a humorous but fortuitous event. As fate would have it, this was my first meeting with Charlie Smith. Since then, I have read and savored his works and consider Charlie an important friend.
Years later, I sat at a table in a crowded New York restaurant and smiled at Charlie as he neared our breakfast table. "How are you, my friend..." he said as I stood to shake his hand. We were meeting to talk about his new book.
By his own account, Three Delays is his best work. I and many others agree, including The New York Times Book Review and The LA Times Book Review. Three Delays is a tale of torturous obsession and fate. Charlie's novel lured, coerced and pulled me slowly through a maze of insanity. If you are interested in reading what I consider to be the best book by the best American fiction writer, you should definitely read Three Delays by my friend Charlie Smith. Then you'll see for yourself why he has been called the heir apparent to William Faulkner.