May 14, 2012

The Past Is Not Another Country ~ It’s Us and It’s Now



I’ve been doing an informal survey of historical American fiction (~ 1850 to 1910) set in the American West.  Lots of interesting books. A lot I’ve read and a lot more need to go into my pile.

But I’ve noticed something while reading through reviews on Amazon about fiction set in rural America in the 1960s, or even set in rural America in presentday.  (This rural America tends to be the South, the Midwest, and the West.)

This is what I’ve noticed:  the blurbs about these contemporary novels read about the same as the ones for historical fiction, even to the extent that I have to do more reading to make sure they aren’t historical fiction.

(Yes, 1960 is in the past, but it’s not 1920 or 1890, for heaven’s sake.)

Why is that, do you suppose?  It immediately struck me that the past lies heavy over these parts of the country.  For whatever reason, it occupies the inhabitants more, and it seems to have a much firmer hold on current occupants.  For example, here in Wyoming, we hold firmly to our cowboy roots, even if trailer parks and roughnecks may be more representative of current inhabitants.  The Code of the West video is a prime example.

I can think of two reasons.  1) People want something to be proud of, and sometimes those things are ideals that are embodied in a (mostly fictional) past. 2) Somehow we are not able escape our past as easily.  We aren’t as distracted by the present, the technology and the fast-paced life of the city.

Am I wrong?  Does the past weigh just heavily over urban areas? Am I just more sensitive to the writing about places similar to where I grew up?  Or is it that the default subjectivity is the urban present, and all else feels strange in some way?  Or is there another reason?

Maybe there’s a personal component as well.  Our familial pasts affect us more than our shared overarching past. We seem to forget the overarching past very quickly, but throughout our lives our families continually remind us of ourselves and our families’ pasts.  We tell old stories and talk about who we are as a family, yet as a state or a nation the rhetoric doesn’t refer to the past much.

Hmmm.  I don’t know.  I’m going to be thinking about this for a while.

4 comments:

Lacey Smith said...

"Why is that, do you suppose? It immediately struck me that the past lies heavy over these parts of the country. For whatever reason, it occupies the inhabitants more, and it seems to have a much firmer hold on current occupants. For example, here in Wyoming, we hold firmly to our cowboy roots, even if trailer parks and roughnecks may be more representative of current inhabitants."
This particular paragraph resonated with me because I just read a book called “Legends Lost” by Charlie Mac http://www.charliemacbooks.com, it’s all about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Even though this particular book is fiction, it's all about two of the greatest outlaws our country has ever seen, and where did they originate? Utah and Wyoming! You're so right, so much of the past is began in the Midwest. Personally whenever I think of the Midwest, the first images that pop into my head are cowboys, ranches and small country towns. Definitely hold to those roots!

Tamara said...

Sounds like a fascinating book! Yes, Butch was incarcerated right here in Laramie at the Territorial Prison.

We definitely do hold to those root! It's funny because they both bouy us up and hold us back in different ways.

Very good for telling stories, though.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Lacey!

~ Tamara

Melissa Crytzer Fry said...

Oh... So thought-provoking, Tamara. I wonder if it IS about the slower pace that makes us not as tempted to concern ourselves with the future. Being that I live in Arizona (cowboy culture as well), you've given me much to think about.

How interesting that the blurbs are nearly identical for historical fiction as they are for rural fiction. Hmm...

You HAVE to use this line in one of your novels SOMEHOW: "the past lies heavy over these parts of the country.".... YES!

Tamara said...

Interesting - the slower pace. Maybe not "running" as fast. Good point!

You're right! What a great line. I will have to use it. Or you can!

So great to "see" you, Melissa!

~ Tamara