RARA-AVIS: More on Northerners

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 21 Jun 2001

I enjoy stories of the cold north and one good anthology was THE NORTHERNERS edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin Greenberg in their excellent series published by Fawcett. They are well worth collecting.

One of my early reading pleasures was Jack London and he has continued to entertain me whenever I revisit him. Kevin is right when he points out that London did not write for the pulps. However the pulps certainly existed prior to his death in 1916. "Most of us" may arbitrarily say the pulp era began later but issues of Adventure, for example, from pre-1916 are fundamentally the same as those published in the 1920s.

Considering the writes who came later, James B. Hendryx had a forty year career writing northerners in magazines like Adventure and Short Stories and I've enjoyed what I have read of his work. He was from Minnesota and perhaps he shouldn't have strayed across the border into Canada as he did in some stories but in my ignorance I enjoyed them as well.

I do remember how as a southerner I would be annoyed by fiction and other popular culture presentations of southerners that were cliched or just plain wrong. This was a very common complaint in the south for many years. It's not heard so much any more and I think that is as much because the distinct south is disappearing as it is that the presentations have become more accurate. Television and other forces are erasing all our regional cultures.

Still there are times when non-southerners writing about southerners hit sour notes. I was cautious when I began reading Howard Browne's SCOTCH ON THE ROCKS a couple of days ago (he says moving back on topic) as it takes place in rural Texas in 1932. Browne is a long time favorite of mine but I feared he would get it wrong, or worse, be condescending. Within a few pages, I was able to relax. Even when he employs pointed commentary it is witty and on the mark.

For example, when the featured rural Texas family first meets the sharply dressed card shark with whom they will share the next 50,000 words Browne writes: "His clothing, manner, and speech labeled him an outsider, certainly a Yankee, probably a Republican, possibly a Catholic or Jew. But since the Dawsons were basically decent, normally hospitable, usually quick to aid anyone in trouble, they were incapable of telling this man to get the hell away from them."

I had to smile reading that because it was as believable as it was funny. I was able to relax about Browne, a non-southerner, writing about the rural south because he had a basic understanding that allowed him to comment on and describe the setting and the people with reasonable accuracy.

I'll comment again on this novel when I finish it prior to the end of Howard Browne month. I will say this now about Browne: I wish he had spent less time as an editor and television writer so we would have a larger body of fiction from him. The man was a gifted writer and a natural storyteller.

Richard A. Moore

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