I am not writing an entire post about a Neil Young song (no matter how worthy of one it is). Instead, I am here to talk about Ed Tarkington’s part coming-of-age, part Southern Gothic, part mystery, part historical novel. Listening to another person’s ideas about what I should read proved to pay off once again; a dear friend handed me this and suggested I read it. It was a great story, and the author in Nashville is close enough to be considered a local author, which is always cool.
The story is dark, and the speaker unfortunately learns many hard and upsetting lessons. But he learns them beautifully. The speaker’s narration is delivered with a sneer and a twinkle in the eye. He becomes disillusioned about many things, but I never get the impression that he becomes a pessimistic or hateful person. He is realistic, happy at times and sad at others.
One example of that sneer and twinkle:
“There was a scripture lesson, typically led by Miss Anita, followed by an open discussion of ‘prayer needs,’ which devolved rather directly into the primary purpose of these kinds of gatherings. Apparently it’s not sinful to gossip about people so long as you are praying for them.”
There are many others, but I will leave them to your curious mind to discover.
I also got quite a kick out of this:
“Bless her heart, they might say, which was just the southern way of excusing oneself for making a trivial diversion out of another person’s misery.”
At first, I was going to write that off as just another southern writer explaining to everyone the meaning of a phrase everyone already knows the meaning of. BUT… I realized it was a dig at the reader as well. Throughout the novel, the reader is in fact getting their entertainment from the misery of the characters. Some of us may have even uttered a ‘bless your heart’ during some of the more thrilling moments. While reading novels like these, we are the old ladies sitting on the porch gossiping/praying about the town drunk/loonie/tramp/normal person. I must say I am not ashamed by this fact. I am pretty impressed though that the author reached across the page and pointed that out to us.
It’s very hard to tell you more about what happens in the novel or what it’s about because the action starts quite suddenly and near the beginning of the novel. There are slow moments, but they are worth getting through for the beautiful commentary about growing up, loving other people, and living in the 20th century United States.