Wednesday, September 24, 2014

To Hell in a Handbasket

Picked up another book by Tana French at the library today. I am on the list to get her new one, The Secret Place, when it becomes available. In the meantime, I'm reading Broken Harbor, an earlier book in the same series set in Dublin. Reading Tana French is one of those total-immersion experiences where it feels like you're deep-diving and only coming up often enough to grab some air (or maybe a bite to eat) before resubmerging. In this story, there are a lot of contrasts drawn between the Ireland that was and the Ireland of today. The contrasts have to do both the larger context—the economy, the worlds of business and politics—and the lived experience of the individual characters. As the story is getting rolling, the lead detective on the case, "Scorcher" Kennedy, reflects on the changes he has seen in the country since he was a child:

     I remember this country back when I was growing up. We went to church, we ate family suppers around the table, and it would never have crossed a kid's mind to tell an adult to fuck off. There was plenty of bad there, I don't forget that, but we all knew exactly where we stood and we didn't break the rules lightly. If that sounds like small stuff to you, if it sounds boring or old-fashioned or uncool, think about this: people smiled at strangers, people said hello to neighbors, people left their doors unlocked and helped old women with their shopping bags, and the murder rate was scraping zero.
     Sometime since then, we started turning feral. Wild got into the air like a virus, and it's spreading. Watch the packs of kids roaming inner-city estates, mindless and brakeless as baboons, looking for something or someone to wreck. Watch the businessmen shoving past pregnant women for a seat on the train, using their 4x4s to force smaller cars out of their way, purple-faced and outraged when the world dares to contradict them. Watch the teenagers throw screaming stamping tantrums when, for once, they can't have it the second they want it. Everything that stops us from being animals is eroding, washing away like sand, going and gone. (85)
The passage puts me in mind of a similar reflection in Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. The speaker here is an officer of the law as well, Sheriff Bell

I read in the papers here a while back some teachers come across a survey that was sent out back in the thirties to a number of schools around the country. Had this questionnaire about what was the problems with teachin in the schools. And they come across these forms, they'd been filled out and sent in from around the country anserin these questions. And the biggest problems they could name was things like talkin in class and runnin in the hallways. Chewin gum. Copyin homework. Things of that nature. So they got one of them forms that was blank and printed up a bunch of em and sent em back out to the same schools. Forty years later. Well, here come the answers back. Rape. Arson. Murder. Drugs. Suicide. So I think about that. Because a lot of the time ever when I say anything about how the world is goin to hell in a handbasket people will just sort of smile and tell me I'm gettin old. That it's one of the symptoms. But my feelin about that is that anybody that can't tell the difference between rapin and murderin people and chewin gum has got a whole lot bigger of a problem than what I've got. Forty years is not a long time neither. Maybe the next forty of it will bring some of em out from under the ether. If it aint too late. (195-6)
On a not completely unrelated note, on the way into the library today I saw a Fiat parked outside with a bumper sticker that read, "When did greed and selfishness become American values?"

I'm old enough and crotchety enough at this point to appreciate the rueful humor of all of these texts. On the other hand, I'm not sure that the world was ever as rosy as we like to tell ourselves it was in the past, and I'm not convinced that alertness and attention and compassion and thoughtfulness have entirely disappeared from the world we live in.

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