Refreshing! Refreshing, yes, that is what it is! To have the topics and
ideas of Southerners and the South treated in a sympathetic and clear voice,
articulated by a young man with both the writing skills required and
knowledge of the area demanded to discuss it. Such diverse figures as
musicians--Johnny Cash and Elvis, writers like Richard Ford and Eudora Welty,
politicians--Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter are featured in vignettes within
this 205-page collection of articles written by Philip Martin.
Martin describes himself as, quote:
critic and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock. I
like newspaper work; it seems to suit me. I recognize that I'm lucky to
have a job like the one I have - I write every day and almost every day
something I've written gets published and presumably read, if only by the
copy desk. I write about movies and books and music and politics and stuff
that happens to people.”
he is in fact is a man, who was brought up middle-class in the South,
traveled around and settled in Little Rock, choosing to stay in the South by
choice, not by constraint. Where others see shortcomings and ills, Martin
explores the depths of the culture of this region, unearthing truths that we
take for granted. In exposing and celebrating our differences (yet pointing
out our assimilation into the modern America) Martin paints a picture of
demarcations. We are a blend of peoples, yet we are distinct. We are
Americans, yet we feel ‘different’ somehow, polarized from the rest of the
country by our own makeup and struggles, which are unique.
his article, “Don’t Call Me That: White Trash a Go-Go” for instance,
there is this:
- “In the
South, where there was never any illusion of classlessness,
- “white trash”
was the term for shiftless white folk, the petty criminals
- and the
- It was
codified by an Atlanta newspaper reporter named Erskine
- Caldwell in
his novels Tobacco Road, in 1932, and God’s Little
- a year
later. Jeeter Lester and his brood were shockingly raw, nearly
- feral people.
- In the
book an older woman persuades a sixteen-year-old named
- Dude to marry
her in exchange for a car. Dude promptly drives the car
- without oil,
ruining it. It goes up on blocks in the yard.
Caldwell, the truth-teller, was summarily run out of the South.
- Jerry Lee
Lewis, who once married his thirteen-year-old cousin, was so
he was nearly driven out of the United States. The indignant
- mob ran him
right off the pop charts and into what was then called
music.” (page 39-40, The Artificial Southerner.)
more to the tastes of the whimsical among readers, there is a depiction of
the writer, Richard Ford, who was born Southern, yet really became a citizen
of the world: (page 17)
- “He is a
man at ease with himself, a patient and gracious man.
- He likes his
little apartment here: he likes the fact that he can spread
clipboards out, read his Chekhov, watch sports on television.
- Soon he’ll be
back in New Orleans, in the big house on Bourbon Street
Kristina is remodeling the slave quarters to accommodate his
on to Paris, where some of his most recent writing has
- been set.
Maybe they will buy that apartment.
sooner or later he will be back in Arkansas, to a reunion of his
family in Atkins or Russellville, to sign at Wordsworth Books or
- at his friend
Rod Lorenzen’s bookstore, to visit Frank Newell. Something
- will call him
back. His mother is buried here.”
The Artificial Southerner
is a taste of the South, a slice from the lives of the people that live
there, like having a big hunk of watermelon thrust in front of you for the
feasting! Thank you, Philip Martin. Thank you!
Robert L. Hall
- Southern Scribe
2001 Southern Scribe Reviews, All Rights Reserved