Some Musing and Some Discussion of Carolyn Chute

Boy. It's been a while. Sor­ry about that, all of you who keep faith­ful­ly com­ing back to check out the blank pages. I've been tak­ing a class in poet­ry (going well, thanks for ask­ing) teach­ing, deal­ing with the nec­es­sary com­pli­ca­tions of three chil­dren, deaths in the fam­i­ly, and so on.

I want to talk briefly about one of the main inspi­ra­tions for begin­ning this blogazine. I've read many books writ­ten about rur­al Amer­i­ca, and near­ly every one exists in a polit­i­cal vac­u­um. I don't know if it's because rur­al folk, espe­cial­ly the rur­al poor, have been tak­en advan­tage of so many times that dis­cussing pol­i­tics seems only to fuel the fires of indig­nance and to reen­force the qua­si-lib­er­tar­i­an views many rur­al folk have, or what, but most of these books don't pro­vide char­ac­ters that look to the larg­er scheme of things. Rur­al folks are gen­er­al­ly con­cerned with food, shel­ter and pro­cre­ation and the work they do to pro­vide those things , like every­one else. Maybe they can't spare a thought for the big pic­ture because the big pic­ture has tra­di­tion­al­ly nev­er includ­ed them. They're engaged polit­i­cal­ly inso­far as it affects them directly–local pol­i­tics especially–but so deep in the day-to-day grind that the pol­i­tics of the larg­er pic­ture seems a lux­u­ry to be engaged in when every­thing else is tak­en care of, and 'every­thing else' is rarely tak­en care of com­plete­ly. In my opin­ion, just to men­tion one big-pic­ture item, most folks would buy local, avoid Wal-Mart, shun oth­er big busi­ness­es for their dai­ly needs, if they were giv­en an oppor­tu­ni­ty to do so cheap­ly. Wal-Mart is cheap and acces­si­ble; ergo there's one near every com­mu­ni­ty. There are many few­er local options now, and that lack forces the small-town inhab­i­tant to trav­el to that ugly-ass strip mall and lay out the cash where they can make it work for them best.

The point is, Car­olyn Chute, well-known writer and activist, does not shy away from pol­i­tics. In her last book, Snow Man, she dove direct­ly into con­tro­ver­sial waters, and near­ly drowned. Snow Man is about a mem­ber of a Maine mili­tia, Robert Drum­mond, who has had enough–the 'why' of this becomes clear imme­di­ate­ly– and trav­els to Boston to assas­si­nate some sen­a­tors, suc­ceeds in one attempt, and runs, wound­ed, bleed­ing and near­ly passed out onto Bea­con Hill and into the home of anoth­er sen­a­tor. In the first near­ly absurd moment of a book with plen­ty of absurd moments, the senator's daugh­ter and wife hide him in a spare bed­room, while the whole world is look­ing for him. Giv­en that premise, you might avoid the book, which would be amis­take. Snow Man deals with pol­i­tics in a way that might sur­prise you as it enter­tains you. Chute sees activism and sup­port for at every angle, and breaks away from the main nar­ra­tive to share the talk of peo­ple in bars and church­es who sup­port Drum­mond, much in the man­ner of a Greek cho­rus. I found myself nod­ding sym­pa­thet­i­cal­ly and winc­ing some­what at the sheer aggres­sive tone, not quite buuy­ing the premise, but hooked nonethe­less; I feel, in many ways, just like her peo­ple: fed up, pissed off, and ready to act.

Review­ers com­plained about card­board char­ac­ters, atyp­i­cal pol­i­tics, unwieldy plot, and the sheer anger of Chute and her stand-in Drum­mond. I found lit­tle of that to be accu­rate, even when I re-read it this week in the cold light of a few years per­spec­tive. It's first a good, enter­tain­ing book. While not a great book per se, it's also not an exe­ge­sis of the pol­i­tics of mili­tias and rur­al res­i­dents of Maine, as some have claimed. The book claims none of that: Drummond's heroes are Nestor Cer­pa and Sub­co­man­dante Mar­cos, unlike­ly heroes for a rur­al, qua­si-con­ser­v­a­tive guy from Maine. But that's the beau­ty of it. You can see the oppos­ing forces of the book set up so clear­ly, and poor Drum­mond is doomed from the get-go. As lit­er­a­ture, it prob­a­bly fails, as polemic, it's won­der­ful to read.

Chute's new book is in my hands, The School on Heart's Con­tent Road. She's been work­ing on it for years, even as her lit­er­ary rep­u­ta­tion sunk a bit with the cool recep­tion of Snow Man. I've been wait­ing for it, not because of The Beans of Egypt Maine, love­ly book though it is. I've been wait­ing to see what's next for her because of Snow Man.

I hope you read one of her books; all of them deserve a wider audi­ence.

Car­olyn Chute's Wicked Good Mili­tia

Audio inter­view with Don Swaim

Car­olyn Chute Goes Back to Egypt Maine

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2 Responses to Some Musing and Some Discussion of Carolyn Chute

  1. Lynn says:

    I have, twice, read The School on Heart's Con­tent Road, and I've assigned it to uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents in Eng­lish class. As good as Faulkn­er, for the detail and grav­i­tas. Makes me think of Leslie Mar­mon Silko's big book, The Almanac of the Dead. I can't wait for the sequel to School… We'll pick up where we left off, with the pro­tag­o­nist sur­viv­ing his hos­pi­tal stay, I hope.

  2. Court says:

    A non­fic­tion book that address­es pol­i­tics in red­neck coun­try is Deer Hunt­ing With Jesus by Joe Bageant. Not read it myself but from what I've read about it, it gets right to the heart of some of these mat­ters. His web­site is also worth check­ing out​.As for fic­tion, I've not read any Car­olyn Chute, so I can't com­ment on that. About Wal-Mart, I think the point is, local busi­ness can't do what Wal-Mart does, for bet­ter or worse. Bar­ring some major gov­ern­ment inter­ven­tion, and peo­ple in my part of rur­al Amer­i­ca still have a very strong lib­er­tar­i­an streak, and so would be opposed. Maybe against their own bet­ter inter­ests, but there you have it. Cor­po­ra­tions like Wal-Mart know this, and take advan­tage. And rur­al folks get cheap goods. Just not in very aes­thet­i­cal­ly pleas­ing surroundings.Why do most fic­tion writ­ers writ­ing about rur­al Amer­i­ca shy from pol­i­tics? I sup­pose because, as you indi­cat­ed, most rur­al peo­ple do.

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