Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bookshelf, Library Bag or Donation Box

In Bookshelf, Library Bag or Donation Box, our Tators give their verdict on the books they read, whether they're keepers for the shelves, one you borrow from your local library, or just give to your local used bookstore. 

James Ross’ They Don’t Dance Much takes place in rural North Carolina in the 1930’s. The main character, Jack McDonald, loses his farm due to back taxes and has nothing else to do, but accept a job offer from Smut Milligan, a local troublemaker, who wants to open a roadhouse. Even though the northern states had already overturned prohibition, NC continued to be a dry state. Therefore, in addition to having dancing and pay-by-the-hour hotels, Jack and Smut serve illegal liquor made by a black employee of the roadhouse. Although the roadhouse seems to do well, Smut’s aspirations to win back his high school sweetheart, who happens to be married to one of the richest guys in town, leads him to investigate the rumor that a regular patron has money hidden on his land. In order to find that money, Smut commits a violent murder that Jack is forced to witness and participate in. From that point to the inevitable end, Jack must live in fear that he may be next.

When I picked up They Don’t Dance Much, I didn’t initially realize that this was a reissue. However, this novel was originally published in 1940 and was Ross’ only novel he ever wrote.  Because it was written in the 1930’s, Ross uses colloquial language of the time period, which includes the consistent use of the “n” word. In fact, it is used so often that I’m sure it could give Mark Twain a run for his money. Having not prepared myself for this fact, I felt shocked and uneasy with the regular use of the word. Even so, it was apparent that Ross was writing a story exactly as life was, being completely and brutally honest. Had he chosen to use any other word, it would not feel as authentic as the novel does.


Bookshelf: This book is often considered one of the best southern noir novels ever written. Not only do critics consider this novel under-appreciated, but also an accurate depiction of rural southern life in the US at the time. The story is moving, sad, and horrifying. In fact, at one point I had to set the book down and walk away because it started making me feel sick. However, I have never read anything quite like it and highly recommend it.

Nevertheless, if you are someone who does not like noir, which often uses slow- character storylines, or if you are extremely sensitive about novels that use derogatory language toward African Americans, I would probably avoid this novel. Ross is not trying to paint a pretty picture of living in the South during the depression.

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