In Which I Am Mildly Condescending Towards Southerners

My initial reaction to Flight Behavior was a little lukewarm, but I was surprised by how quickly I warmed up to it. There’s something about the whole rural, southern, small town thing that puts me off, because to put it bluntly if we’re going to look at things through a “country mouse/city mouse” dichotomy I’m pretty much a city mouse through and through. Even so, within the first couple of chapters I found myself appreciating the novel’s portrait of a world and most importantly a perspective distinctly unlike my own. The basic lifestyle stuff isn’t what’s most interesting to me here, even if it is different from my own experience; I’m pretty far removed from any kind of manual-type farm labor, and even though I’m familiar enough with meager Christmases and failing to make ends meet my family’s never had it as rough as Dellarobia’s, but Tennessee isn’t really so far from here and it’s not like a rural American lifestyle is something so unfamiliar that it blows my mind. What really gets me, though, is the mindset of Dellarobia’s world–the religiosity, the at best barely-concealed racism, leaning everything on sports, spurning education and distrusting science, it–just–well, I’ve heard enough horror stories that I maybe don’t have quite the “I can’t believe this” reaction Ovid displays, but I think it’s safe to say my feelings on the whole are similar to his. Like, so much of the small-town mindset this novel illustrates is so completely contradictory to what I believe and how I see the world that there are times when the story seems downright bizarre, but I actually really appreciate that. The fundamental dichotomy of rural and uneducated vs. urban and educated that Flight Behavior addresses is one of those things that’s pervasive in American society and especially politics; it’s something you can’t avoid, something that’s endemic to American life and that you can’t help but internalize even if you personally don’t fall quite so neatly on one side or the other. But where this kind of thing lends itself to a lot of rhetoric and vitriol, stereotyping and tribalism, Flight Behavior deals with it in a way that’s thoughtful, personal, and human, and that’s something I like to see.

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