Reach Out Of The Darkness

It’s quite bizarre. I no longer have to work early on Tuesday mornings–I now don’t have to go in until eleven-ish, at the earliest–and I was disoriented most of the day; mainly, I kept thinking it was Wednesday and getting terribly confused. I’ve been coming in at 8 on Tuesday mornings for so long that NOT having to get up at six seems, at the very least, strange. But I am certain I can adjust to not having to get up so damned early.

And there’s a three day weekend this weekend! Woo-hoo! Maybe I’ll go see Beauty and the Beast.

I am definitely going to go to the gym, that’s one thing I am going to accomplish this weekend. STOP LAUGHING I MEAN IT.

Bastards.

I finished reading Ben H. Winters’ controversial Underground Airlines yesterday morning before I went into the office, and it was quite exceptional. He was recently nominated for a Thriller Award for Best Novel from the International Thriller Writers, and I have to say, it’s a well-deserved honor. I met Winters several years ago, at the Edgar Award banquet when he won for Best Paperback Original for The Last Policeman, the first in a highly acclaimed trilogy that blended both the crime fiction and science fiction/alternate reality genres (the trilogy is in my TBR pile, which is, as I am sure you’ve assumed by now, pretty much is my entire living room), and so I was sorry to see the criticisms leveled at him for writing and publishing this book. The book is an alternate reality novel, based on the premise that the Civil War was never fought and slavery (or, as it is called in the book, Persons Bound to Labor) still exists in only four states, known collectively as The Four: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Carolina–the two states were combined into one. The main character is a man of color who works for the Federal Government as a slave chaser, and the book focuses on one particular case–which goes very deep, and is horrifying as you get more and more into the book and the true story of what’s going on starts to unfold.

underground airlines

“So,” said the young priest. “I think I’m the man you’re looking for.”

“Oh, I hope so,” I said to him. “Oh, Lord, I do hope you are.”

I knitted my fingers together and leaned forward across the table. I was aware of how I looked: I looked pathetic. Eager, nervous, confessional. I could feel my thin, cheap spectacles slipping down my nose. I could feel my needfulness dripping from my brow. I took a breath, but before I could speak, the waitress came over to pour our coffee and hand out the menus, and Father Barton and I went silent, smiled stiff and polite at the girl and at each other.

Then, when she was gone, Father Barton talked before I could.

“Well, I must say, Mr. Dirkson–“

“Go on and call me Jim, Father. Jim’s just fine.”

“I must say you gave LuEllen quite a start.”

I looked down, embarrassed. LuEllen was the receptionist, church secretary, what have you. White-haired, apple-cheeked lady, sitting behind her desk at that big church up there on Meridian Street, Saint Catherine’s, and I suppose I behaved like a wild thing in her tidy little office that afternoon, gnashing my teeth and carrying on. Throwing myself on her mercy. Pleading for an appointment with the father. It worked, though. Here we were, breaking bread together, the gentle young priest and I. If there’s one thing they understood, these church folks, it’s wailing and lamentation.

I understand why this book set off warning bells for people, and as a white man, maybe I’m not the best judge as to whether it’s offensive or not; but I thought it was amazing. Well-written, completely believable yet horrifying at the same time because of that believability; a stinging indictment of the horrors of systemic racism by showing what kind of desperate measures desperate times can call for. I highly recommend it; I greatly enjoyed it even as it deeply unsettled me.

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

 

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