Tag Archives: Home

Seeking but Never Leaving Home in the South

Alabama Sunset

“When I taught English classes at a university in the Midwest,” Sarah Domet writes, “I often turned to William Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom! as a representative sample of a ‘Southern’ book. . . . At the heart of the novel stands a character who both transcends and is forever bound by his roots.”

Interestingly, I have never taught Absalom! Absalom! in any Southern classroom. Perhaps this is due to my fear of being outed as an outsider myself, my fear of being seen as the dreaded Yankee stereotype who instructs Southerners on the ways of the world. Yet, as I was recently re-reading this great Southern novel, something struck me: My desires to belong to a new region—my anxieties of place, too—are all very Southern, at least in a literary sense. In my fear of not being Southern enough I was playing out the very themes of Southern fiction. Time and time again Southern writers confront the conflicting notions of what it means to live in the South, be of the South, find a home in a place with a complicated history. Time and time again Southern writers have reminded me that misfits and outsiders alike all have a shot at redemption. It is Flannery O’Connor herself who famously notes, “Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.”

‘Home,’ by Harlan Coben

Home, Coben

Part way through my reading of Home, Harlan Coben’s latest Myron Bolitar novel, I remembered that I had sworn off these books not too long ago. It’s not that Coben isn’t a superior storyteller. And it’s not that he doesn’t offer the kind of character insight and humanity that I crave from an author. I just felt he’d gotten too PC for my taste. But I carried on, having purchased the book, and enjoying the story. Home is a good novel, but marred (for me, probably not for most readers) by progressive elements.

In this outing, we start with Win Lockhart, Myron’s wealthy, effete-but-deadly, longtime friend. Win has dropped out of sight to hunt for a missing person, his sister’s kidnapped son, gone ten years. His search has brought him to London, where he locates a boy who looks to him like his nephew’s friend, also kidnapped on the same occasion. In approaching the boy, he encounters three thugs, whom he easily dispatches. But the boy takes fright and runs away. That’s when Win calls Myron, who drops everything and flies to London to help in the search.

They encounter criminals and pimps in their investigation, but most of all they encounter lies. The lies are old, and deeply buried, and the true secrets lie not in London, but close to home. Old wounds are opened, and old betrayals revealed. The final resolution of the story is remarkable for its grace – but there’s a less inspirational anticlimax.

Home is a very good book. Author Coben possesses deep empathy for the human situation, drawing the reader in and making us care. My problem is mainly with two characters, Esperanza and Big Cindy, who are a married lesbian couple. I suspect they were originally added to the cast of the books for purposes of comic relief. But changing times have persuaded the author to treat them with increasing earnest seriousness. For me, this is a conformist and disappointing element in stories this good and well-grounded in human nature. Various hints suggest that Coben himself does not entirely buy into modern ideas about gender and gender roles, but he nevertheless genuflects to all the prescribed altars, in this and other matters.

Other than that, highly recommended. Coben doesn’t use much bad language, and the sex and violence are relatively restrained.

Deep Longing for Home, Hiraeth

Pamela Petro talks about longing for a home that is not her’s–Wales.

I’m American, but I have a hiraeth on me for Wales. I went there first as a grad student in the 1980s. I learned to drink whiskey and do sheep impressions (I can differentiate between lambs and ewes). I learned what coal smoke smells like (nocturnal and oily). And I fell in love with the earth. It happened one late afternoon when I went for a walk in the Brecon Beacons. (The dictionary defines beacons as “conspicuous hills,” which is about as apt as you can get.) When I set off from sea level the air was already growing damp as the sun faded. Ahead of me the Beacons’ bald, grey-brown flanks were furrowed like elephant skin in ashes-of-roses light. It soon became chilly but the ground held onto its warmth, so that the hills began to smoke with eddying bands of mist. That dusk was unspeakably beautiful and not a little illicit. It seemed, for a millisecond, as if I were witnessing the earth drop its guard and exhale its love for the sky, for the pungent cattle, the rabbits whose bones lay underfoot, and for me, too. I felt as if my bodily fluids, my wet, physiological self, were being summoned to high tide. The hills tugged on my blood and it responded with a storm surge that made me ache—a simple sensation more urgent and less complicated than thought, like the love of one animal for another. Or the love of an animal for its home.