I live and work in
Arkansas, as well as both sides of my family coming from that state.
When I read a book about Arkansas, I want it to not just use the
names of places in the area; I want it to feel
real to me. This book
Beginning in the
forties, the author, Dan Dane, sets out to put the Delta area into
perspective for the reader who may not be accustomed to its unique
characters and traditions. Reader
beware! Traditions are not always a good thing in the Delta!
In a place where land is everything and people are only looked at
as a source of cheap labor, life is tough.
Especially hard hit are the poor blacks and whites stuck in the
backcountry working on the flatlands of Arkansas.
Growing up, I remember
traveling to my grandmother’s house up by the Missouri boothill and
seeing the terrible shanties and shacks by the roadside.
Mexican workers and blacks tilled the ground alongside whites that
never graced a college campus or were invited to fancy parties.
Mr. Dane forces me to recall that memory.
His first tale starts
off with a devastating tale of a racist white-trash plantation owner,
“One-Eye” Gibson, who cheats his black laborers by keeping them in
debt to the plantation store by lying about their debts.
He also has a particularly ugly relationship with his farm
manager’s wife, after the manager mysteriously disappears from the
scene. This first tale is capped off with a legal battle and final
challenge from the blacks that he has browbeaten (and literally beaten),
and who have been caught like deer in the headlights for years.
The next section of the
book deals with the offspring of those plantation workers who are still
struggling. Only now, there
are no big plantation bosses – just corrupt politicians, both white and
black who victimize them.
Now, one would think
that this might be a story about the poor, mistreated masses yearning to
be free, and that a slanted version of good versus evil might exist within
this story. It doesn’t.
I was pleasantly surprised by Mr. Dane’s rendering of the clash
between the elite and the miserable.
He offers no excuses for characters that deserve none, no matter
that they are poor. Neither,
however does he excuse the powers that manipulate those unfortunates for
their own purposes. It is a
tale, straightforwardly told and profound in its simplicity.
For those who don’t
know, a part of Arkansas has become the crank capital of the country, an
enterprise engaged in even today, although many counties are covered in
shopping malls, upscale housing developments and business zones. This reality brings into focus the relevance of “Bloodlines.”
I recommend the book
highly – both for the personal stories and the intricate legal
manipulations that are portrayed. It
may be a portent of our future American legal system, and not just in the
© 2001 Southern Scribe Reviews, All Rights Reserved