This book, if I may borrow from Henry Miller, is a gigantic gob of spit shot straight into the face of the South. Since this is not a blog of academic criticism, where I’d have to hide behind a bunch of jargon about semiotics or Marxist theory, I’ll be frank about my feelings toward the South, and start by disclosing that I’m a Yankee. I grew up in Michigan, moved to San Francisco and lived there for decades, then moved to Las Vegas at about the same time as all the rest of the North.
I admit I’ve never understood the South. Why the water cannons and police dogs turned on Civil Rights demonstrators? Why the Confederate flags? Why the TV evangelist con artists? Why the Dukes of Hazzard?
David W. Barbee knows the answers to these questions, and he’s not afraid to talk about them. As his novel, A Town Called Suckhole, opens, a great nuclear civil war in America has left the world in ruins. Rising out of the ashes of post-apocalyptic Dixie is a town of rednecks that still pay homage to the “glory days” of the South, though none of them are old enough to remember those days, whatever they were supposed to have been. But when the town’s biggest two-headed rooster howls at the harvest moon, it’s time for the townsfolk to celebrate their annual Hell-Yeah Heritage Jamboree. Too bad there’s a murderer on the loose, some kind of psychopath who’s going around cutting off the menfolk’s genitals.
So begins David W. Barbee’s self-described “hicksploitation” novel, a bizarro satire on the South in general, and especially on the effect of the Obama presidency on the mental stability of Southerners. Barbee, a Southerner himself (from the mosquito district beyond the outskirts of Atlanta) has his novel’s narrator describe the Yankee “War of Aggression” (the nuke-aided Civil War II mentioned above) on the first page of Chapter One:
And then the Yankees come with their War of Aggression! Yeah, they come at us with suicide bombers an’ kamikaze fighters an’ big-ass robots what smashed Gettysburg right off the damn map! Them Yankees had devil-worshippin’ abortionists! Scientists with the ancient powers of global warmin’! An’ homosexual ninjas who’d sneak up and turn your first-born sons queer!
An’ they was led by the single most evil creature ever to walk the earth: Abraham Hussein Lincoln! It was him took our slaves, an’ our land, an’ our guns, an’ our jobs, an’ our churches, an’ everything else we had!
Later in the book, Abraham Hussein Lincoln is described as “… a vicious werenegro … devourin’ little white babies in the light of the full moon… ” (For those unfamiliar with the etymology of the word “werewolf,” “were” comes from the Latin “vir,” which means “man.” A werewolf is a man-wolf, or part man–part wolf. A “werenegro” would be part man, part negro. You see where Barbee’s going with this.)
When this book came out in 2011, I thought this fantasy of a new civil war between the Yankees and the Confederacy was a typical comic bizarro-style over-the-top depiction of the South’s discomfort with the Obama presidency. The issues that ignited Barbee’s Civil War II—abortion rights, global warming, homosexuality—are all modern day Republican divide-and-conquer chimeras, especially in their stronghold Southern states, though not issues I had imagined could cause an all-out civil war in this country.
Now I’m wondering if the author, David W. Barbee, has proven himself a prophet. In August of 2012, a year after this book was published, a Lubbock County (Texas) judge said he wanted to raise taxes because he needs extra deputies and “trained seasoned veterans” to fight off the United Nations troops that he thinks Obama will use to attack and take over the country if he’s reelected. But let’s allow His Honor to explain his thinking for himself. Here’s the video, courtesy of Fox News via YouTube:
So, I still don’t understand the South. My wife was forced by life circumstances to live in the South for five years, and says I shouldn’t waste my time trying. When she moved to East Texas (as a union organizer), she had a moment of trepidation as she drove across the border into the state. The thought entered her mind that some Klansman might overhear her Chicago accent and hail some hillbilly sheriff to haul her off into the woods and kill her. You know why she was afraid of that? Because that’s literally what happened to Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner when they were traveling into the South to register African Americans to vote in 1964. (Later, a Klansman did threaten her, but that’s another story.)
Barbee depicts a culture that not only glorifies ignorance but enforces it as a way of life. I’ll point out here that the hero in this book–the only character who can think– is not human, but a swamp creature who has evolved out of the radioactive muck. He’s seven feet tall with reptilian skin, gills in his ribcage, webbed fingers and toes, scales on his chest and thighs, lips like a catfish and a tiny nose like a human infant’s. He walks on all fours. But the creature, inexplicably, has a great command of the English language—he’s much more fluent than the townsfolk—and he comes off as the most rational, intelligent character in the story.
The Suckhole townsfolk do have an excuse for their ignorance, as the author explains, “Suckhole didn’t believe in schools, as they were breeding grounds for soulless Commies.” The Suckhole townsfolk have to pretend they don’t see the creature, because they don’t believe in evolution; if they acknowledge the creature’s existence, they’re committing blasphemy. Again, Barbee is making the none-too-subtle point that the South literally discourages coming to terms with reality.
In Barbee’s vision of the aftermath of Civil War II, the Confederates think they’ve won the war against the Yankees despite the fact that the Yankees let loose a nuclear firestorm that destroyed everything else on the planet. (Don’t bother thinking about that too hard–this is a bizarro novel.) The setup of the novel is classic horror story, pretty much like Jaws. There’s a public danger that the sheriff knows about, but the mayor wants it hushed up so it won’t kill business for the big holiday. But after the setup, the story takes off in directions heretofore uncharted.
I suspect there are aspects of this book I don’t get because I haven’t lived in the South, references and in-jokes that are beyond my Detroit/San Francisco life experience. I’m not sure what the Daughters of the Confederacy mean to Southerners, but they are royally trashed in this book, as is Hank Williams, Jr. I’ve never been a country music fan, and though I’ve always liked Hank, Sr., I know little about his son.
Barbee is not so much skewering southern values as he is the ignorance that fosters those values. Barbee seems to despair over his fellow Southerners as much as I do. The book delivers no solution to the problem of willful regional ignorance, but it will get you laughing about it.
In my blog post on bizarro fiction last month, I wrote that some of the best social and political satire right now is coming out of the bizarro writers. A Town Called Suckhole by David W. Barbee is the kind of bizarro novel I was talking about. While it seems to have become politically incorrect to address the raving lunacy coming out of the South, except in its most extreme manifestations, in the world of bizarro fiction it can still be talked about.