Oh. This book is hard.
When researching it a little bit for this second read, I realized it has been compared to The Help an awful lot. I don’t really find this fair, but maybe that’s just because I wasn’t the biggest fan of that book. But, I guess the comparisons should give readers a clue that they are going to be reading about relationships between black people and white people living in the south.
I don’t know that I consider myself Southern, or that any actual Southern people would either. I was born in North Florida, so close to the Georgia line my parents would drive up there to get 99 cent gas. Florida is kind of it’s own world, but it’s still the South. I grew up in the Dallas/Ft Worth metroplex, what we affectionally called “the heart of Texas” in elementary school. Texas is more southwestern than southern, but you ask a Texan and they’d be more likely to tell you they are something entirely of their own.
My mom’s family is from Tennessee. The American part of my dad’s family is from North Carolina. Although I’m no Southern Belle, the ideals and way of life are just a part of who I am. Because of that, I’m no stranger to the discomfort that can come from talking about our history, especially as it concerns anyone who’s black.
Most of the time, I don’t think too much about race relations. When I do, I get really angry. I think about how recent history really is and even though I can see how far we’ve come, what overwhelms me is seeing how far we have to go. And as I think happens with most who are from this particular part of the country, it’s awkward. And what a whiny thing to say. I’m sorry, but I don’t want to think about those things because yes they were horrible and it makes me sad, but also it’s just a little bit awkward. Can we change the subject?
I like to read books and hear stories and see movies and experience things about this part of history because I don’t think it’s right for us not to talk about it. I don’t think it’s right for us to say, “oh, but we’ve moved on. what’s the use of dredging up those horrible memories?” Well, maybe it’s just me, but I want to be damned sure that we as a human race move forward and never sideways or backwards. If we ignore history because it’s awkward, how easy will it be for our children to forget history because it’s easy?
To me, this book is much better than The Help. One of the reasons I didn’t really like that book/movie is because it was so feel goody. You can go see it with your (white) friends and leave and think about how yes, it was awful back then, but look! Good white people existed! We helped! We did it! Let’s all pat ourselves on the backs because it’s so much more likely we’re related to these fictional good white people than to the ones who lynched and raped and enslaved and when finally something changed pushed back against it with every bit of strength they had. Surely we’re not culpable for that.
And we aren’t. We are not responsible for the sins of those who came before us, just because we had the misfortune of being related to them. As history has proved, we humans have done a really awful job of taking care of each other. This is why it’s important for us to see how and why were wrong and work to make things better for those we wronged. But you don’t get to stop just because things aren’t as bad as they were. That’s not how it works. Books like this one, which examine these relationships in more recent times, show us exactly how long the road is and how far we’ve left to go.
Also Lynne Bryant does a really marvelous job of fleshing out all of her characters, no matter the color of their skin. None of them felt like caricatures, which was a problem I had with the other book.
Read it. It’ll do you good.
for next week:
THOSE ACROSS THE RIVER
by Christopher Buehlman