How Fire Runs: A NovelHow Fire Runs: A Novel by Charles Dodd White
My rating: 4/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

well, shit—where did this guy come from? blurbed by Silas House, Taylor Brown and Chris Offutt, this is someone who should have been on my radar not just as “a goodreads friend who also enjoys grit lit,” but as someone who actually contributes to the genre.

lesson learned.

this is top-notch storytelling, presenting a clear conflict like “white supremacists move into a rural tennessee community and establish an enclave in their midst,” but then taking the time to really flesh out the characters on both sides of the situation—not only how the residents respond to the group literally planting their territorial flag in the ground, but also focusing on the members of “little europe” itself; this community-within-the-community, to better examine the complexities that arise when their leader, gavin noon, decides to run for local office.

looping in history, politics, and social responsibility, white illustrates the effects of this disruptive force on individuals and on the community’s sense of itself as the residents are forced to consider some uncomfortable realities.

probably overquoting here, but this particular passage really resonated with me and the shame and disappointment of witnessing so many of my fellow americans who, encouraged by racist leadership, confidently embraced their worst possible selves and, along with far greater transgressions, ruined the name “karen” for the rest of us.

“How does that affect the place we live when we allow a man like him to make a claim on the public office? How do we reconcile that to the country we’ve all grown up in? I talked to the sheriff about this. He told me something that maybe shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. He told me that there’s not a hell of a lot of difference between the kind of community Noon wants and what a lot of people out here in Carter County would agree with. That’s not the way I like to think about my home, but maybe it’s not entirely untrue either. You don’t see a lot of black families itching to move out here, do you? A scattering but that’s all. Rebel flags no further than a quarter of a mile apart even though just about every family up here was pro-Union during the Civil War. But history doesn’t have a damn thing to do with it anymore. Doesn’t matter if your great-great-grandpa ambushed any butternut home guard he could, what matters is that even if your life has run down the backside of a toilet, at least you’re a white man by God, and you’re going to let the world know it.

“What happens then when a man like Noon can run for a position of government? It makes all of those racist jokes and hatred legitimate. It makes the whole ugly violent mess of who we are something to ignore and it makes it acceptable to do anything we please, because we are just protecting what makes up our genetic code.”

it’s smooth, smart, and surprising with a strong sense of place and some excellent detail-work in the areas of small town politics and noon’s cultural ideology of “ethnic distinctiveness.” and it is, unfortunately, a very relevant piece of writing in the nowtimes. i am definitely looking forward to reading more from him.


a karen you can trust


book #200 of 2020—only 50 more to go to meet my reading challenge!!

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