Friday, December 12, 2008

Readings: Patriotic Panacea

As I may have previously mentioned, my local public library conducts a monthly book sale to raise funds. I have hauled more books back from those sales than I will ever have time to read; but it’s for a most worthy cause. I often find myself buying books that I read, and perhaps owned, thirty or forty years ago, but which have since passed out of my possession. I am reading such a book now: Them by Joyce Carol Oates.

As the novel begins, a sixteen year-old working-class girl named Loretta, who has dropped out of school to work, and is supporting her drunken father and keeping house for her hoodlum older brother, goes to a party, gets drunk, and brings her boyfriend home with her. She is awakened at dawn by the sound of a single gunshot. Her boyfriend is in the bed next to her, dead, with a hole in his head. She flees the apartment, half naked, and runs down to the street, frantic to decide her next move. Her thinking is typically American:

What she had to do, Loretta thought, was get a gun herself. Get a gun first. Then she could figure out what to do next. First she needed a gun, but to get the gun she needed money. Back in her room she had three dollars saved, which was nothing, and anyway she wasn’t going back up to that room. She would get a gun, she thought, and then she would be safe. It came to her that girls had their faces slashed for all kinds of small mistakes—she’d seen a woman running down the street once with the side of her face streaming blood. ...She thought I have to get a gun, and every part of her body strained forward at this certainty; focused on it. She could understand now why her brother had a gun. Everyone needed a gun; it was crazy not to have one. ...She could almost hear the words...a gun, a the air about her. Once she had a gun, then, then she could take care of herself.

Loretta was a strict constructionist and a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment.