As a black man with a predilection for the Southern white woman experience, Als can write about white girls in salacious, exploitative detail like Freud writes about Dora. He knows our every move, and everything wrong with those moves, and he appreciates that we make them anyway.
Instantly, here was race, implied violence, and the abject debunking of the two, all unspooled in a startlingly familiar dialect that was somehow hardly written in dialect. How absurd that this was the first scene of the novel. It was one of the most hilariously accurate depictions of the contemporary South I’d ever encountered, and from the pages of an airport crime novel written by an old white man from Detroit.
It’s a painful feeling we Southerners can relate to: we can’t stand living in our hometowns, but we can’t imagine being anywhere else. Watching these films as an adult, I felt an eerie recognition of an environmental frustration: Morrissey was stuck in Manchester, Billy and Frank were too terrified to leave Yorkshire, and there I was, struggling to identify myself in Birmingham—a once-industrial city named explicitly for a British one.
My husband and I live in a small town in a country where we don’t know the language. The weather is bad. The customs are confusing. My husband is in school here, but many of my days are spent in bed, reading, and listening to the oppressive cathedral bells clang through the hours. We’ve viciously fought, too much, just about how we talk to each other. At times, I’ve had too much to drink. I’m either inattentive—glued with loneliness to my laptop screen—or I feel neglected. It’s like I’m Winona Ryder in that bad Jerry Lee Lewis biopic, when, as thirteen-year-old Myra Gale, she crumples to the floor and bellows in a blasphemous accent, “But I don’t know how to be a waff!” Because I don’t. And neither does he know how to be a husband. We’re still learning.
The New Mind of the South is Tracy Thompson's ambitious sociological analysis of our mystifying region. While the title of the book consciously riffs on The Mind of the South, W.J. Cash's sanguine exercise in self-loathing, published in 1941 and still largely considered one of the more profound examinations of our regional attitude, Thompson's work does less to encapsulate a consciousness than examine facets of her biography against the drastically altered socioeconomic landscape of the South.