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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Redneck Way of Knowledge

Traveler, if you ever come to Charleston, South Carolina, and you have quenched your thirst with antebellum mansions, marveled at statues of Confederate soldiers and Southern glory, seen the rich, white aristocrats in their elegant restaurants and the poor, blacks folks sitting on church steps selling baskets to tourists, you need to go to the Blue Bicycle Bookstore. I had wanted to continue my Chilean tradition (1, 2) of reading literature of the places where I travel and was directed to the store in my search of local authors. A great second-hand (and new) book store, it also boasts of a sizable collection of Charlestonian writers (most signed by the author, which is unfortunately reflected in the prize). Thus I found Blanche McCrary Boyd's The Redneck Way of Knowledge.

Boyd is on the one hand a hard-drinking, true Charlestonian and Southerner who enjoys stock car racing and bad liquor early in the morning. On the other hand, she is lesbian, left South Carolina (and the South as she claims, actually she want to Duke, which I guess makes this one of her half-truths) at 18 and has returned only sporadically. Her book is made up of a collection of essays (short stories? novellas?) mostly dealing with her past, background and life in as well as visits to Charleston. In her own words: "Being a white Southerner is a bit like being Eichmann's daughter: People don't assume you're guilty, but they wonder how you've been affected."

The texts in her collection were at their strongest when Boyd discussed her familial relations of how her ultra-conservative surroundings reacted to her radical left-wing politics in the 60s and how her perception of them changed. She is at her best when she talks about the peculiar South, she is at her weakest when she enumerates drinking binges viewed as a protest against the stiff, racist, aristocratic upper society of Charleston. But also when she (seemingly) desperately tries to reclaim her roots through attending the Tough Man Contest or the desire to holler at Dixie at the top of her lungs. Finally, Boyd closes with two very personal and humane texts on her having been in the car when a friend ran over a black man coming home late at night when she was a teen and follows this up with an extremely interesting piece on the Greensboro Massacre of which I had been completely unaware.

At some point in the beginning (I couldn't find the citation) Boyd quotes her aunt in saying that she should finally write a book that were less complicated and then states that The Redneck Way of Knowledge were that book. I saw a lot of potential in her writing, potential that she not always fulfilled. Kind of like a great athlete (let's say Jay Jay Okocha or Vince Carter) who was always tantalizing, even great but never really lived up to his billing. I hope to read one of Boyd's novels on South Carolina just to find out whether her more complicated read comes closer to fulfilling her potential.

1 comment:

Jorn said...

The novels are all good, but the later ones are more about california radical lesbian communes, if I recall.