I drive over the bridge into town. The whitest town on earth--or, more accurately, once the whitest town on Earth until the Mexicans moved in. Once you get through the crowded old suburbs where the large Victorian homes sit on the hill and past the rows of cupola-topped row houses, it's an ugly town--a mishmash of 1940s asphalt shingles, multicolored bricks, and gray concrete. There's too much litter, and too many people look angry. Dad says it wasn't always like this. He says it's not the Mexicans' fault that the city council would rather spend the city's money on new arts initiatives and a big flashy baseball stadium than more police on the streets. So now, while there's wine, cheese, and doubleheaders downtown, poverty has taken over and crime is at an all time high uptown. I lock my doors.
lawn jockeys (the black kind), and three cement deer--a doe and two fawns.
As far as Charlie was concerned, the Great Hunter was an Indian spirit who lived in our woods. He drank from the lake. He watched the stars from the ridge. He protected hikers and hunters and tree-climbing little urchins like us, and he created the most sacred tree of all, the Master Oak, for us to grow up in.
Update: 5:03 PM, August 31, 2014
In my post (above), I should have provided a synopsis of what the book is about. Here's what you'll find at Amazon:
Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything. So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?
Well, I kept on reading...
I came across a "Nazi skinhead" named Mick who is boyfriend to one of Vera's coworkers (Vera works at a pizza place). One evening, Vera gives Jill a ride home. They've got Sly and the Family Stone cranking. When they get to Jill's apartment, Jill reaches over and turns the volume way down so Mick can't hear it. She turns to Vera and says "What can I do?" With Jill's action and question, we understand that King wants us to know that Mick is racist towards blacks. Why couldn't she give us something like that about the Ungers, too?
Later, Vera is remembering being on the bus when she was in 8th grade. She was listening to Al Green on her headphones. A senior guy sits with her and asks her what she's listening to. His name is Tim Miller. Vera doesn't want to tell him what she's listening to because he uses the n-word and she's sure he won't like the music she listens to. There's also a Confederate flag in his yard. He lives at the bottom of the hill. He tells Vera she's a rich kid. Given the location of his house, his family is low on the SES scale. He's obviously meant to be racist. Again--why don't we have anything to mark the Ungers as racist? Why couldn't Vera have said "the racist black kind" rather than just "the black kind" when she noted them on the Ungers lawn?
I'm trying to figure out who Vera is... She is well-off, doesn't like the n-word, and is aware of white supremacist racism towards African Americans. Is that a plus for Vera? For King?
Update: Monday September 1, 7:58 AM
I finished Please Ignore Vera Dietz last night and am following up on my post from yesterday.
After the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, police response to protesters, and white response to the entire thing, Vera's observation that more police would make the Mexican neighborhood a better place set me off. It reminded me of a piece I read in the Washington Post. Written by Carol Anderson, a professor in African American Studies, she did an excellent job providing analysis of Ferguson. Anderson's article captures what I think is wrong with King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and it being singled out for distinction, and, the lack of critical commentary on its racial dimensions.
Titled Ferguson isn't about black rage against cops. It's white rage against progress, here's an excerpt:
Protests and looting naturally capture attention. But the real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls that have long served as sources of black employment. It goes virtually unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble, though they are actually driven by the most ignoble motivations.
Though Vera drinks and starts dating a man (she's 18; he's 23), we're supposed to like her. She is a progressive thinker. She likes African American music. She is uncomfortable around Mick, the "Nazi skinhead" and Tim, the kid who uses the n-word and has a Confederate flag in his yard.
Vera doesn't like overt racism, and she feels bad for "the black kids who are called nigger at school."
Vera is like a lot of people that object to overt racism, but don't see the institutionalized racism that is created by the aura of respectability that Anderson describes in courts, police departments, legislatures, and governing systems.
I think the aura of respectability is also very much a part of the book world. Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a great example.
Vera thinks that the Mexican part of town would be better if there were more police there. Did King want us to see Vera's thinking as problematic? If she did, I think she'd have woven it into the story, but she didn't. There's nothing about it in the discussion guide she has at her site, either. The lawn jockey is never taken up again, either.
The Great Hunter does reappear. Anticipating his death, Charlie leaves a series of notes for Vera. Finding and reading them after his death, Vera reads one that says "You'll never lose me, Vera. I'm the Great Hunter now." Presumably, people love that idea, but for me, it is just more white-people-playing-Indian according to their ignorant/racist ideas about who we are! They see this play as honorable and positive, and it leads a great many to defend the use of Native imagery for sports mascots. Vera never says "oh that Great Spirit shit is fucked up." She could have, but she doesn't get it. Does A. S. King get it? I don't think so.
Again: None of this noted in reviews. The focus of those reviews is on Vera and Charlie and how they're navigating troubled waters of abandonment and abuse. No doubt, readers/reviewers see that as the most important theme of the book. All that other institutionalized racism stuff? To them, it must either be invisible or just not important.
Obviously, I disagree.
There is a great deal of harm in institutionalized racism and in that aura of respectability.