Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl have collaborated on an exhaustive quaternary of YA Southern Gothic romances, the Beautiful Creatures trilogy. There was some interesting stuff going on in the first book [although I’m still not sure what happened during the climax], as well as a vivid, if rather stereotypical, setting, so I kept reading.
Recently I plowed through the last installment, Beautiful Redemption, which had significantly less plot, character development and complexity than the previous three episodes. I’ve been detecting all along Garcia and Stohl’s strangely uncomplicated and idealized portrait of the southern US, but one moment in Beautiful Redemption encapsulated all that was problematic about the series.
Toward the end of the novel, [white] protagonist Ethan has come back from limbo and reunited with his [white] angstball girlfriend Lena and his other supporters. Ethan asks his [white] friend Link what Amma [a literal Magic Negro + Mammy twofer who acts as Ethan’s maternal figure, then ultimately sacrifices her life for his] was talking about when she mentioned that she caught Link doing something shameful in the cellar when he was young. Link explains that Amma caught him dressing up in a Civil War uniform. The uniform did not belong to the Confederate ancestors of which his family was so proud, but to some acquaintance’s Union ancestors.
Garcia and Stohl write [pp. 440-441]:
I burst out laughing, and within seconds so did Link. No one else at the table understood the sin in a Southern boy — with a father who led the Confederate Cavalry in the Reenactment of the Battle of Honey Hill, and a mother who was a proud member of the Sisters of the Confederacy — trying on a Civil War uniform for the opposing side. You had to be from Gatlin.
It was one of those unspoken truths, like you don’t make a pie for the Wates because it won’t be better than Amma’s; you don’t sit in front of Sissy Honeycutt in church because she talks the whole time right along with the preacher; and you don’t choose the paint color for your house without consulting Mrs. Lincoln, not unless your name happens to be Lila Evers Wate.
Gatlin was like that.
It was family, all of it and all of them — the good parts and the bad.
Right there the authors trivialize an entire history of racism, slavery, sexism, cruelty and oppression by equating support of it to talking in church or painting one’s home without talking to one’s neighbors first. It’s just a harmless peculiarity, a peccadillo, that causes Ethan to feel uncritically jubilant and nostalgic about his hometown. While he does acknowledge "the good parts and the bad" at the end of this quote, his laughter demonstrates that, while he may struggle with the made-up Southern history of mortals vs. magicians, the ominous real Southern history of torture, war and suffering bothers him very little.
Way to go, Garcia and Stohl. Thanks so much for, among other bilge, perpetuating the myth that the United States is a "post-racial society."