A few months back when we were in Savannah, Georgia at the book fair, I was thrilled to see a favorite author, Pat Conroy in person. It was wonderful to hear him speak. As I have mentioned before, he made me feel like more of a Yankee than I ever have.
Mary Kay and I have been on even more of a book-reading spree than normal, as we peruse, choose, and read all sorts of wonderful new selections. In doing so, we came across a wonderful author, new to us, Greg Iles, a southerner and writer of novels that reach across the borders of civil rights, the KKK, treatment of human beings, good and bad, the North and the South, and human weaknesses.
Despite the fact that this is fiction, I am sure that so much of his writing is based upon the factual. The truth of the matter is, fact is often stranger than fiction. In the set of novels that I am reading, the protagonist is a man, a real man, a person with ideals and failings, a person who has been through much in life, losing a wife at a young age, coping with being a good father and son, having a career as lawyer, writer, and then mayor, and then finding out about his own father’s weaknesses, which heretofore, have not even existed in his eyes. Penn Cage is the son of a man who treats all human beings as equals and the two of them live in Natchez, Mississippi, of all places.
For many years, both MK and I have marveled at the beauty and the sometimes-savage aspects of our country. We love to travel and visit different places, but for whatever reason, the Deep South has not always been on our horizon as the next place to visit. I think that sometimes we symbolically associate it with so many of our countries issues and problems.
My mind is changing here and I feel that I need to visit the Deep South.
Despite my not comprehending the primitive feelings that arise in us in regards to race relations, I really feel the need to understand it further.
In the current ‘Penn Cage’ novel by Greg Iles, which I am reading out of order since I started the trilogy that is currently on the presses, starting with ‘Natchez Burning’ (actually book 5 in the Penn Cage series) and being seconded by ‘The Bone Tree,’ (book 6 in the Penn Cage series) I came across an interesting quote which truly resonates with me, it is something I have felt within myself for some time. It is a quote by Penn Cage as he is speaking to a young, female, Northern journalist who is hell-bent on doing the correct, liberal thing, and research the atrocities committed within the South. He is a Southerner born and raised and tries to express his feelings to her and set her straight.
The quote is from “The Quiet Game,” the first of Greg Iles ‘Penn Cage’ novels. Penn Cage, representing the South, is speaking to Caitlin Masters.
“…But I want you to be clear that I think the North is as guilty as the South when it comes to blacks.”
“You don’t really believe that.”
“You’re damn right I do. I may criticize the South when I’m in it, but when I’m in the North, I defend Mississippi to the point of blows. Prejudice in the North isn’t as open, but it’s just as destructive…”
“The Quiet Game,” Greg Iles, Chapter 5, page 48
I am convinced that those of us in the North are often on our high horses and act as if all of the atrocities occurred elsewhere and that we treat people better than they do in the South. The fact of the matter is that the North is way better at hiding things, at keeping appearances up so that it might look better, but in reality the problems exist in a different form. We may have come far but we most assuredly have a long way to go in curing the ills brought about by England colonizing our land and giving slavery and its horrid ramifications to us.
I took my walk with Stewie, my black and white dog, on Thursday morning. As I viewed the honeysuckle and also the dandelions going to seed, I saw the South and the North juxtaposed, both parts of this country and both parts needing to continue at an even faster pace at dealing with our horrific past and its continued presence in our current lives. We must get beyond this.