The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

September 25, 2013

Too many books, not enough politics?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 —

“Aren’t you writing about politics anymore?” a newspaper editor asked me the other day.

I stuttered because I have been writing more about books than politics lately.

The editor continued, “Are you a little gun-shy from that controversy about the column you wrote bringing Joseph Goebbels’s voice into North Carolina politics?”

Counting today, I have written five consecutive columns about books. One of them, however, Brandt Ayers’s “In Love with Defeat,” was about politics in Alabama and North Carolina. The others, including today’s column, Wilton Barnhardt’s “Look Away, Look Away,” are fiction. So is Lee Smith’s “Guests on Earth,” which will be the subject of a forthcoming column.

All these books and authors are important, so important that every informed North Carolinian should know about them: Ayers, because he puts 50 years of southern politics and civil rights struggles in perspective; Gurganus and Smith, who are among our state’s most important and beloved authors, are giving their fans new books for the first time in years.

Meanwhile on Sept. 22, Pessl, Mott and Barnhardt made the Top 25 on The New York Times’s hardcover fiction bestseller list, showing the country that North Carolina is still producing writers worthy of national attention.

So this will be another column about a book. Barnhardt’s “Lookaway, Lookaway,” a Dickens-like novel, follows the decline of a contemporary, socially prominent Charlotte family. Barnhardt takes his readers to country clubs, museums, mansions, college fraternity and sorority rush parties and aftermaths, debutante balls, retirement homes, real estate developments, gay pickup sites, homes for unwed mothers, abortion sites, Civil War reenactments, and, note this, political campaigns.

The family’s titular leader, Joseph B. (“Duke”) Johnston, has a connection to the Confederate general best known for his surrender to Sherman at the end of the Civil War. Johnston gained his nickname as a football hero and student leader at Duke University. After college he became a Charlotte lawyer and Republican city councilman. He had prospects of being governor someday, until a minor sex scandal brought those dreams to an end in the mid 1980s.

The real leader of the family is Duke’s wife, Jerene Jarvis Johnston, whose every action is calculated to enhance or protect the family’s social position. Her family’s art collection, housed at Charlotte’s Mint Museum and displayed in the Jarvis Room, gives her leverage with the city’s social elite.

But the family is running out of money. Jerene’s brother is a wealthy author of a series of Civil War era romances. Sometimes he shares his wealth with his sister’s family, but his assistance is usually undependable and is always demeaning.

Meanwhile, none of the four Johnston children show potential or interest in leading the family to social prominence and wealth again. The rebellious, liberal Annie runs through three marriages. Bo, who might have been a lawyer or businessman, is instead a troubled Presbyterian minister. Josh is a mostly closeted gay with a secret active sex life thanks to resources he finds on the internet and the devoted help of his best friend and companion, a super smart African American lesbian. The youngest child, Jerilyn, shows early social promise until she shoots her way out of a marriage.

Does Barnhardt accurately portray the social, civic and political scene in Charlotte? I think he stretches things to make a good story. But when I challenged him, he promised he could produce facts to show the situations in the book are close to what Charlotte and North Carolina are really like.

One fact is indisputable. Barnhardt is a gifted storyteller and a welcome addition to North Carolina’s literary pantheon.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at 12 p.m. and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For information or to view prior programs, visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncboo kwatch.

1
Text Only
Opinion & Letters to the Editor
  • Brent Laurenz Special election adds to the mix

    RALEIGH – A busy slate of judicial elections this November got even busier recently when Judge John Martin of the N.C. Court of Appeals announced his retirement.
    A special statewide election to fill Martin’s seat will be added to the general election ballot, joining the four N.C. Supreme Court seats and three N.C. Court of Appeals races already slated for this fall.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Patrick Gannon Fake news or sign of some more trouble?

    RALEIGH – Of the three situations I can recall where agencies receiving large sums of taxpayer dollars wouldn’t divulge employees’ salaries, two of them ended badly. The third – involving a group of charter schools in Southeastern North Carolina – is playing out right now.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Almost half of America's obese youth don't know they're obese

    WASHINGTON - The good news is that after decades of furious growth, obesity rates finally seem to be leveling off in the U.S.. The bad news is that America's youth still appear to be dangerously unaware of the problem.

    July 23, 2014

  • Darth Vader is polling higher than all potential 2016 presidential candidates

    On the other hand, with a net favorability of -8, Jar Jar is considerably more popular than the U.S. Congress, which currently enjoys a net favorability rating of -65.

    July 23, 2014

  • D.G. Martin Where did all these new voters in North Carolina come from?

    “Voters born elsewhere make up nearly half of N.C. electorate.”
    So begins the latest DataNet report from the UNC Program on Public Life, directed by former journalist Ferrel Guillory.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Patrick Gannon Some light for Dems in their time of darkness

    RALEIGH – Earlier this year, state Sen. Ben Clark, a Hoke County Democrat, became a hero for a day among his party and environmentalists when his amendment to require more well water testing near future fracking sites passed the Senate. It even gained the support of a number of GOP senators, against the wishes of the Republican bill sponsor.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • mama.jpg What we get wrong about millennials living at home

    If the media is to be believed, America is facing a major crisis. "Kids," some age 25, 26, or even 30 years old, are living out of their childhood bedrooms and basements at alarmingly high numbers. The hand-wringing overlooks one problem: It's all overblown.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Doug Creamer Maintaining hope

    Gardeners are facing challenges with the weather this year. It seemed like we were getting great conditions in April and May. The weather was warm and we were getting some good rains. Then sometime in June the rain stopped. It got so dry that I didn’t have to cut the grass. While I enjoyed the break, the garden was not happy at all. I was having to water quite a bit to keep the vegetable garden alive and growing.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jason O. Boyd I may be a bit behind the times, but at least I can find ‘America’

    I seem to be reading about and dealing with technology a lot lately.
    I  love technology and have always been fascinated by gadgets of all kinds and the wonderful things they can do. You never seem to go through an entire day without some form of invention enhancing your life.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Brent Laurenz Meeting out in open helps negotiations move ahead

    RALEIGH – State lawmakers reconvened in Raleigh on May 14 promising a brief legislative session this summer, but as July moves along they are still in town and tackling big issues.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

House Ads
Seasonal Content