Reading progress update: I've read 10%.

The Amulet - Michael McDowell, Poppy Z Brite

McDowell has spent two chapters describing the small town of Pine Cone...which sounds odd but his sarcasm and social commentary is so strong that this was not boring. If this town was based on one that McDowell grew up in or knew in real life, he's had a field day ripping it to shreds.

The white inhabitants of Pine Cone are not overly educated, they are not overly refined, and they are not overly civil to one another. The community is so homogeneous it seems like an extended family, but it is a family that feuds with itself constantly. The Wiregrass is not a region that breeds tolerance or friendliness, and the more genial of human attributes seem to exist in that place by chance and neglect rather than by cultivation. Neighbors distrust one another as a matter of course, and a brother is very careful when he turns his back on his sister. “To give the benefit of the doubt” is a phrase that is not even understood, much less put into practice, in Pine Cone.

Religion is a great occupation in this part of the country, and there are many factions among the Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Congregationalists, and Church of Christ-ers. And many of these denominations are further split up: the Baptists, for instance, came in both the hard-shell and soft-shell variety. Hard-shell Baptists sing their hymns a capella, for they consider bringing a piano or an organ into a sanctuary is no better than turning it into a dance hall. They do not cross their legs, for that is thought to be a form of dancing, and dancing is a sinful abomination. Soft-shell Baptist women cross their legs, but leave the dancing to the Presbyterians and the Methodists and cheerfully damn them to hell for it. Three families of Catholics live in Pine Cone, all of them employed at the factory. Two of the families go every week for services in Andalusia; the third is apostate. There are no Jews in Pine Cone, and no one could be found who would admit to atheism.




In the countryside surrounding it, and in Pine Cone itself, morality is rampant. When a boy playfully filched a pencil from his best friend, it was universally predicted that he would end up in the state penitentiary, if he recovered from the whipping that his father administered. And among adults, adultery is an unmentionable thing, which only occurs in the Bible and in Mobile.

But this morality is that of the hard face: it is scandalous to mow your lawn on Sunday, for that shows disrespect for God, who likes long grass on the seventh day. On the other hand, it is perfectly natural—because it is legal by the laws of the United States—for the president of the bank to foreclose on a piece of property adjoining his own, so that he could purchase it for the price of a dead dog, tear down an old woman’s house, and build a swimming pool for himself. The old woman died in a nursing home in Andalusia before the pool could be filled with unchlorinated water.

But it could be said also that there is a great vitality in the mean-spiritedness of the town’s inhabitants. Sometimes they are creatively cruel to one another, and there were seasons in which Pine Cone was an exciting place to live—if you were a spectator, and not a victim.