Friday, April 06, 2007

Marred By Attitude

P.T. Deutermann, his most recent novel Spider Mountain shows, carries a hatred for a certain class of people. He is completely upfront about it in this book, his latest tale of detective Cam Richter. The question is, does his attitude have an impact on the value of the work?


To me, it does. After all, it opens with a dedication making clear that the attitude shown within is also the author's:


This book is dedicated to all the seemingly anonymous folks, government, faith-based, or just plain charitable, who work out in the hills and hollers of Appalachia, tending to the people and their children who only think they can take care of themselves.

Say what?


OK, negative attitudes towards Appalachians are pretty much a given in America -- "hillbillies" are the one group it's fine for even a liberal to hate -- but that doesn't mean it should be acceptable to cast off an entire group of people as incompetent -- or worse. Deutermann's words resonate antebellum attitudes towards African-Americans by their owners: "Why, we're doing our slaves a favor. They could never survive on their own." Deutermann, of course, certainly would not make such a statement about blacks (our culture now makes people mask such feelings) -- but he's blithely and openly willing to denigrate another whole section of the American population, and on as flimsy and sickening a basis.


Deutermann peppers his books with denigrations of Appalachians, each one a slap on the face:

"... All my guys have most of their teeth and can speak using the occasional two-syllable word." [16]

His accent was mountain, but not tree-stump ignorant. [47]

"Because the children have little value to a certain stratum of the population. As in, she was a' lookin' pretty damn good for thirteen, but then she done got her a damn kid hung on her. And if it was her daddy who did the hanging on, then the child become disposable." [188]

This much is true: there's a great deal of snobbery towards Appalachians, especially among those who have moved to the mountains from elsewhere (and there are many of those, these days). Ignoring it in a book set up in the hills of western North Carolina would be as bad as ignoring the racism that, even today, permeates American society. But Deutermann is not simply presenting the attitudes he finds; he is actively promoting his own.


The question remains, however: do Deutermann's (or any author's, for that matter) attitudes have an impact on the value of the book as a work of art? Personally, I would like to be able to answer, "No." But I am as human as Deutermann, and I bring my own prejudices into my reading, just as he does into his writing. As a child of Appalachia, I cannot honestly remove myself from reaction to the author's attitudes any more than an African can to Joseph Conrad's when reading Heart of Darkness.


The plot of Spider Mountain revolves around the nefarious activities of one "Grinny" Creigh, matriarch of a nasty clan in a remote North Carolina county adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Detective Richter's attempts to shed light on her activities are complicated by the fact that the local sheriff is also her brother and that state and federal authorities are reluctant to get too involved in local affairs. There are plenty of vicious dogs, fires, shootings -- and even a lynching and an attack by a wild boar. This is a suspense novel of the James Lee Burke variety: tough, tough characters facing down enemies of equal strength and greater nastiness. It lacks the sadness about violence and the recognition of its consequences, however, that raises Burke above so many others of the genre.

Read the rest of Marred by Attitude and decide for yourself, is Deutermann guilty only of elitism, or is there a tinge of tribal / racial smugness here as well?





2 comments:

Benjamin said...

Hello,

I’m co-host of a Denver media watchblog called the Try-Works, which, I’m proud to say has drawn a little blood here and there amongst our locals. One of our primary foci has been the Denver media’s neo-Stalinist smear of CU Professor Ward Churchill. I'm leaving this comment because you’ve shown some interest in either the Try-Works or Ward Churchill. If I’ve misjudged and you’re interested in neither — my apologies.

As you know, though Ward Churchill drew the right-wing’s ire for questioning American exceptionalism, it was understood that attacking him for exercising his right to free speech might raise some uncomfortable questions. As such, the local media’s coverage immediately took on a viciously personal bent, the main charge being that Professor Churchill wasn’t a “real Indian.”

Only two pieces of evidence have ever been offered that Churchill is an “ethnic fraud” — whatever that means.

1. A genealogical study in a June 8 Rocky Mountain News article, performed by an incredibly unqualified team made up of two anti-Churchill bloggers and a New Jersey cop. (http://tinyurl.com/byp32)

2. The word of several people affiliated with a splinter offshoot of the American Indian Movement — primarily Suzan Shown Harjo, Vernon Bellecourt and Carole Standing Elk — who have a longstanding feud with Professor Churchill. Professor Churchill (along with Russell Means, John Trudell, Robert Robideau, Glenn Morris, George Tinker and others) have earned their lifelong enmity by contending that members of this group brutally raped and murdered a young American Indian activist. (http://tinyurl.com/3av3sp)

Professor Churchill, on the other hand, has videotape of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee council discussing his membership application and affirming his every word. Videotape tape the UKB mailed Professor Churchill along with his enrollment card. Videotape which the Denver media knows of, and has chosen to ignore as inconvenient.

But we have made a copy. And we have posted relevant clips to the Internet, accompanied by a breakdown penned by Try-Works member Charley Arthur.

Just click here: http://tinyurl.com/36uat6

For those of you who support Professor Churchill (or who just have a passing interest in journalistic integrity), enjoy.

For the inveterate liars among you — especially among the Denver local media — we’re going to be having a lot of fun at your expense. Do drop by.

Sincerely,
Benjamin Whitmer
www.tryworks.org

AaronBarlow said...

You argue one issue by turning to another. What Churchill's ethnic background may or may not be is irrelevant to any discussion of the political motivations behind the investigation into him. They are also only a part of why he is ousted--his academic integrity, apparently, is lacking as well.

Discuss on thing at a time, and you will come to the conclusion that, the attacks notwithstanding, Churchill deserves what he gets.

You also lose my willngness to take you seriously when you end by calling people liars. Those who disagree with you deserve more respect than that--and you lose credibility when you slap people with such a term so easily and without any real support for your usage.