To learn from The Red Summer…

I may earn money from the participating companies linked in this post: (supporting my nearby independent bookstore Bluebird & Co, in Crozet, VA) and/or Audible. My podcast is sponsored by Audible and Care/Of.

Yesterday was beyond difficult. Especially if, like I did, you studied the pictures.

I have to describe one for you, first, that is all the more horrifying for not showing any gore. The bottom half of the photograph looks like a deep American South family reunion: “Everybody squeeze in for the photographer”, nobody put down their beers or cigarettes, they all looks slightly buzzed, even the children…

And then there’s the nasty jolt, that special nasty jolt you get when you have been studying that Charles Addams cartoon and then you get it, only this one’s real, too real…

In the upper left of the group photo hangs two legs, wearing shabby pants and workboots.

My brain tries over and over to revolt against that photograph, to push the abort button, to scream fake and Photoshop. It’s that horrific in its banality.

Sometimes, when something is that everyday cruel, it is best sometimes to learn about it with one or more removes, through fiction.

I have two recommendations:

book: The Bottoms, by Joe Lansdale
disclaimer: I am lucky enough to know Joe, and he is a fabulous example of a human being.
This novel takes place after the Red Summer, within the next few years, within recent memory:

It’s 1933 in East Texas and the Depression lingers in the air like a slow moving storm. When a young Harry Collins and his little sister stumble across the body of a black woman who has been savagely mutilated and left to die in the bottoms of the Sabine River, their small town is instantly charged with tension. When a second body turns up, this time of a white woman…

A lynching is a major plot point, and its flashpoint, and the racism and tension surrounding it, are examined in an unflinching manner. This novel is is one of my favorite books, if that tells you anything about how gorgeous, lush, and honest it is about our America. Honest and unflinching is what we need right now.

movie: The Skeleton Key

I cannot explain how this horror movie fits and explores this topic without spoilers. Just trust Momma Carla. It’s a slow, hot Louisiana thriller that goes back and forth in time, involving “the help”, race relations, slavery, religion…

Be a little bit kinder than necessary tonight.


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